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How to drive sales 25% year-over-year your first year in business

Here’s the strategy at Diane’s Natural Market in St. Augustine, Fla.


The last thing Andrew and Colleen Noel wanted to do was cancel an interview with Supermarket News, but nobody could predict that a receiver would break his foot on a prime delivery day. It was all hands on deck for the hands-on owners of Diane’s Natural Market in St. Augustine, Fla.

Interviews could wait, the next shipment could not.

“So we helped receive,” said Andrew. “We wanted to make sure everything got delivered and on the shelves.”

Both Andrew and Colleen saw themselves owning a business, but neither thought it would be in grocery … or during the worst global pandemic in centuries.

“We really decided it was time to work hard for ourselves,” said Andrew. “Grocery checked all the boxes.”

“And I don’t think when we were buying the business we were like, ‘Oh, should we be doing this in the middle of COVID,’” Colleen said.

“We jumped in with two feet,” Andrew added.

Two feet, two legs, two arms, two hands … whether it’s pushing product or catching up with customers, the Noels put themselves up front and accessible. During the interview with SN, Colleen forgot her walkie-talkie was on.

“That’s how involved we are,” she said. “I still have my walkie-talkie on in case they need us downstairs.”

“Talking with the customers is critical,” said Andrew. “Just learning from what they’re telling us allows us to adapt.”

Moving into the store had rough moments. The in-store coffee shop was shut down, but is now back open and busy with customers. The cash registers were initially of the push-button variety, and everything was priced manually.

A point-of-sales system was installed, allowing the Noels to better understand the store’s big sellers vs. items slow to move off the shelf. Having the system also proved pivotal during the pandemic in terms of managing supply chain issues.

The Noels said their strategy has always been to have the product people really enjoy and give them access to it all of the time. And so far, it’s been a winning strategy. The first year in business sales at Diane’s were up about 25% year-over-year, and through the first quarter of 2023 sales were up 30%.

Being part of a buying group — the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association — also has been a life saver for the Noels. The association gave them resources to find replacement products during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the group has provided resources to cope with rising prices due to inflation.

And the employees at Diane’s have been glad to see Andrew and Colleen. Upon their arrival, the couple increased wages, and set up a paid time off program and a 401(k) option. They even have an employee rewards program — “Diane’s Bucks.” The Noels often get free merchandise from vendors, and employees can pick something out from the shelves using their rewards.

The community outside of the store also is important. Andrew and Colleen scour the area to get local products. More is done for schools, charity runs, and other functions. 

“Getting out into the community is important to us,” Andrew said.

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