Merchandising Body Care and Supplements

Supplements and body care items offer unique challenges and opportunities to your store. Many co-op stores have small departments for these categories because they began as food stores and really focus on food. However, it is possible to please customers by offering more and to improve overall store margins with good sales in supplements and body care.

In considering expanding these store areas, the most important things to look at are:

  • How much inventory can you turn? And what are the inventory levels (it's an investment) your store can support?
  • How will you position yourself in the marketplace? Are you the great value store or the finest quality with service? It's always important to offer a range of choices, but which focus is more appropriate for your store?
  • Do you have knowledgeable staff, or are you committed to providing the
  • staff training that is required for effective customer service?
  • Who are your competitors in this area and how can you serve the market as well or better?
  • What kind ofspace can your store give to these categories, and how can you
  • best present it?

Merchandising is taking action with the merchandise! This is done in four basic ways: product selection, product allocation, pricing, and promotion. Here are some thoughts about each of these aspects of merchandising supplements and body care products:

Product selection

Selecting the correct supplements is a very difficult and important aspect of a successful department. The market is flooded with brands of vitamins, herbs, and homeopathics. It is a mistake to try to have a little bit of all of it. Survey stores in your area to know what the competition is carrying and how they are pricing it. Consider your demographics. Do you have a lot of senior shoppers? How many of your customers are into sports performance? What percentage of your customers have children for whom they will buy vitamins and remedies? Are your customers informed about herbs and homeopathics? Is average income high enough to sell high end vitamins? Or is it better to focus on value lines?

When choosing the lines you will carry, keep these things in mind:

  1. Always offer the best - carry a top line, Pick one of the lines known for quality. The price will be above the others, but all stores have shoppers who want the best quality -- otherwise they probably would not be in our stores!
  2. Choose your mid-range line -- one of the well-known supplement companies. Pick one available from your main supplier, and offer a complete or near complete line. This will help you have a great part of what customers request and will save you a lot of special orders.
  3. Choose a value line or private label (or both if you are a large enough store). Be sure you have a line which is low cost so you can be competitive with drug stores or other stores which offer lower price options on basics: multi's, C's, calcium, zinc, and Vitamin E.
  4. Choose a homeopathic line where you can get good service on single remedies and a selection of combination remedies.
  5. Choose herb capsules and tinctures which are known for quality and selection. See what lines your competitors are carrying. Peruse the popular health magazines to see who is advertising, and consider your demographics.

What percentage of your inventory should be vitamins, herbs, and homeopathics? This will depend upon your community. In general, vitamins will sell 2-3 times as much as herbs because everyone takes multi's and C's and calcium. Herbs are the fastest growing category, but still take much more knowledge to sell. Find out ifyou have a local herbalist group, naturopaths who recqmmend herbs, herbal study groups, and informed customers before you go too far in herbal inventory. Choose both quality tinctures and capsules and offer enough selection to be a real herb source.

Choosing your merchandise for body care: The big three categories in body care, in sales dollars, are still soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. It is important to have plenty of choices in these three categories. Now that some of the natural choices are available in mass market stores, you may have to take a lower margin on some of these items to maintain a good price image.

A great way to tie up money in slow moving merchandise is to have too many high end lines for people to choose from. This is a mistake that is costly to fix. Start with one top line. Talk to local natural aestheticians, shop other stores to see the lines offered, and find out which of the best lines available to you can offer staff training, samples, and service. Offer a high-end skin care line only when your staff can be trained in selling it. Then give it prominence either your eye-level shelves or a display case. Consider second or third high-end lines only after you have built up a reputation for quality and service, and have good sales and inventory turns on your first high-end line.

Mid-range and lower priced skin care lines are also difficult. There are too many to choose from! Pick a few that are popular in your area, available through a trusted distributor, that advertise, and that meet your standards for quality. Remember, customers will always want something you don't have. It's most important to know selling points of what you do have.

Product allocation

Product allocation refers to placing the product where the customer will find it, notice it, or become interested in it. Contrary to what product reps suggest, not all products can be at eye level. Do use your eye level shelves for your premium lines. Use the standard supplement merchandising technique ofkeepmg lines together. The standard format for supplements will help both your staff and customers locate items within the various lines.

  • Put multi vitamins first, then alphabetically follow with A's, B's, C's, etc. Always put the lower potencies and smaller sizes to the left of the larger. If there are combinations, lead with them: for example, B complex first, then Bi, B2, B3 (Niacin), etc.
  • Follow the vitamins with the minerals, multi's first and then single minerals in alphabetical order.
  • Amino acids, in alphabetical order, should follow the minerals.
  • Categories like oils, digestive aids, etc. are generally last in the lineup.

One good variant is to separate a few categories such as digestive aids, protein supplements (especially because their size indicates their placement together), children's vitamins, and products especially for women. It's much more difficult to make shelves combining various lines look good, so limit this to a few important categories.

Positioning your department within your store: a nook, center stage, or cornered in? Every store must look at its sum total of department needs when allocating space and location. An attractive department can work anywhere, but remember, shoppers like to browse here, read labels, ask questions, and consider their choices. And, unless your HBA department is first in your store, most likely they will have a shopping cart full of food, so they will require some additional space. Try not to locate the department past the area where people buy refrigerated and frozen food, since this decreases their tendency to take time over supplements and body care and is less conducive to sales.

Product pricing

Don't sell yourself short! A great deal of work and inventory dollars go into having a great supplement department. The industry standard is 45-50% margin on these products. Your co-op will face the same shrink and turn issues of any health food store. Know what margin you will need to make in this high service area, and price accordingly.

Price sensitive items are much less common in supplements than in groceries, but they exist in the same way common items that are now available in the mass market or in any store - and these should be price surveyed and priced competitively. On other products, take a generous margin. Theft and breakage on these items are very costly, and extra labor hours are required for the careful purchasing, department maintenance (continuous cleaning!) and customerservice required in health and beauty.

Product promotions

Promotion is where the fun begins! Promoting products in the supplement categories can happen in several ways. Break away from the concept that it has to be "on sale" to be promoted. Think of the possibilities: shelf signs with legally stated features of the product, displays of products that center on themes: cold care, bone health, energy products, memory enhancers, nutritional support for menopause, happy pregnancies, friendly bacteria, tension tamers, weight loss, super foods, green products, children's remedies, homeopathy, antioxidants, sun protection.

The most important part ofpromoting products in this category is to have your staff knowledgeable about the products. It is important that your staffknow what they can say without making recommendations or prescribing products for health conditions. Putting the products together in temporary category displays helps the customer know what is available. If you can, offer the product on sale.

When setting up your department, make sure you have some endcaps or display areas for promotions. It's worthwhile to keep files of information about products put on promotion: the theme, the amount sold, the health information about the product. Tie it to an article in your newsletter if possible, or a local lecture. Watch your pre-notifications from DELICIOUS magazine and try to have features of products that are written about in that issue. Read health magazines to see what's being promoted in the magazines your customers are reading.

Be informed. Customers gain confidence in you as a resource, and that's your best overall promotion of your body care and supplement sections.

See other articles from this issue: #066 September - October - 1996