Health food was a personal interest of mine at an early age -- I was about 13 when I knew this was a passion. I went on to do anything but health-related occupations. I got a degree in civil engineering, started a computer business, then moved back to South Dakota and went back to what I enjoyed.
Starting a health food store 12 years ago in the Midwest, among cornfields, was a little on the edge. I made it more palatable to the local folks. We don't burn incense, we don't have beads hanging from our doors. Your average middle-aged mother of three is not really comfortable with nose piercings and orange spiked hair. You have to be conscious that you create an environment people are comfortable with, because you're asking people to cross a threshold in terms of what they choose to eat.
My previous business experience helped me, but this was my first time in a retail business. Management of inventory continues to be a challenge -- we have 7,000 products on our shelves. Keeping track of which are selling and making sure you don't have product that doesn't move is tough. It's like owning an apartment building with someone not paying rent.
Competition has been steady, and increasing. There was a big-box retailer across the street that had a natural foods section within the store. Walgreens carries organic products.
I think we do have a niche now, and that's providing food for allergen-sensitive people. In the last three years customers have asked us for wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free products. Demand has just really expanded a lot. -Rachel Kaufman
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