Better Retailing Secret Shopper Awards 2015 – Highly commended

Swindon Pulse Wholefoods

Swindon Pulse is a cooperative-run health store with a flair for great customer service

Our Secret Shopper really enjoyed her visit to Swindon Pulse, commenting ‘it’s a little like stepping back in time, with intriguing items in the window decorated with recycled materials.’ Co-op member Colin Climpson agrees that the store is old-school, in a good way. “It’s a proper, old-fashioned vegetarian wholefood shop. We’ve always been completely vegetarian, and we’ve been running the store as a workers’ co-op since it opened.”

Our Secret Shopper also commented that the store is ‘nothing like the shiny health food shops you find in shopping centres,’ and Colin notes that they have the same wooden shelving that they’ve had in the store for 25 years. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that an old-world ambience means that Swindon Pulse isn’t bang up to date. Our Secret Shopper remarked that ‘the atmosphere and smells are redolent of a bygone age but even just glancing around I can see that the quantity and range of products looks right up to date.’ Colin tells us that all the staff members are keen on staying ahead of the latest trends in healthy eating, but that they know the difference between a new development and a passing trend. “We make sure we’re well informed on things that are current and popular, such as coconut water and apple vinegar, but we take some things with a pinch of salt, such as paleo eating or the SIRT diet. People come in and ask for certain foods because they’re following a trendy diet, but wholefoods and healthy eating is just normal, as far as we’re concerned. We try not to push pointless trends because we’ve seen them come and go. The message we try to get across to our customers is that healthfoods are for life, it’s not just about pushing a button, buying a superfood and suddenly being healthy.” Colin is the new boy of the store, having been there for ‘only 13 years’, but the store has been running as a co-operative for over 40 years. “We buy a lot of stuff locally from local producers and independents, so that we can cut out the middle man and keep prices down,” says Colin. “We do use some big suppliers too, but try to avoid stocking products that you can get in multiples and big stores.”

Our Secret Shopper was also very impressed by the service she received in the store. ‘I had a list of the ingredients that I needed, quite a few of which I had found impossible to get in the larger mainstream stores and health food shops. The staff member was very interested in the recipes that I wanted to make and between us we found all of the ingredients that I wanted.’

Colin agrees that good service is one of the things that makes Swindon Pulse special, and keeps their loyal customers coming back over many years. “We have a really good strong customer base of people who have been coming for years and we know most of them by their first names. In the last couple of years we’ve gained lots of new customers because healthy eating has become fashionable, as more people become aware that people are being sold rubbish by supermarkets. People are getting more clued up about ethical values and we try to educate our customers about cooking from scratch and eating healthily. I find it really satisfying making people think, inspiring them to cook properly and change the way they think about food.”

Swindon Pulse can be found at 27 Curtis Street, Swindon, Wiltshire SN1 5JU

Healthy Route, Leicester

Healthy Route in Leicester combines great customer service and an appealing store layout

Our Secret Shopper had a great experience shopping at Healthy Route in Leicester. The store is in a great location, and our secret shopper liked the fact that the street was pedestrianised and centrally located.

Owner Gary Trickett says: “We’ve been in our current location for four years. Before we were here it was owned by GNC and before that it was a Goodness foods, so there has been a health food shop here for the best part of thirty years. We’re on the border of the main commercial shopping area and The Lanes, which is a bohemian mix of independent stores. Leicester is a very dynamic city, and the customer base is really changing, so although that loyalty played a part to begin with, we also attract a lot of students as we are on the main thoroughfare to the University, and people come to study here from all over the world. We are also on the route to Leicester Cathedral where the body of Richard III is interred, so we now get customers from places like Australia and Canada who are here on historic visits. It’s definitely a store that gets a customer that is outside of the usual health food shopper profile!”

Our Secret shopper was very impressed with Healthy Route in Leicester, commenting on the store’s bright, appealing interior: ‘the store felt very light, bright and clean looking... and manages to give the impression of having plenty of stock without feeling cluttered.’ Gary says that the look of the store was carefully planned. “Most of our competitors tend to be older stores, in suburban locations, that have been around a long time. Being in a city centre we have to compete with multiples and chemists, so it’s important to be modern, and to take the things that those stores do and do it just as well, if not better. We’ve categorized the store so that the layout is clear for customers, whether they’re looking for bodycare, household, childcare or frozen food. We want the shop to give the impression that we are professional, but still caring and considerate, and it’s great that this came across to the Better Retailing secret shopper.”

Our secret shopper also found the staff in the shop very helpful, noting: ‘I was impressed with the attention from the staff. I was asked soon after entering the shop if I needed help, and also offered help by another member of staff.’ Gary says that the staff in the store are a mix of those that have been there for a long time – like store manager Mary, who has worked there for 20 years – and very new people, but that everyone on the team has been well trained. “It’s been impressed on them that what makes us stand out from the multiples is the fact that we can go the extra mile for our customers. We encourage the team to live and breathe the products; if they’ve used the things we sell at home, that knowledge will come across when they’re selling them in the store. Plus, if customers have queries we can ring suppliers and pass on that information, which is something that the multiples don’t really do.”

Our Secret Shopper was also very impressed with the knowledge of the member of staff who served her, and how helpful and sympathetic she was, noting that ‘the assistant was friendly, knowledgeable and... seemed to take a genuine interest in my health problem.’ Bryony is pleased that our writer had such a positive experience.

Our secret shopper also found the staff in the shop very helpful, noting: ‘I was impressed with the attention from the staff. I was asked soon after entering the shop if I needed help, and also offered help by another member of staff.’ Gary says that the staff in the store are a mix of those that have been there for a long time – like store manager Mary, who has worked there for 20 years – and very new people, but that everyone on the team has been well trained. “It’s been impressed on them that what makes us stand out from the multiples is the fact that we can go the extra mile for our customers. We encourage the team to live and breathe the products; if they’ve used the things we sell at home, that knowledge will come across when they’re selling them in the store. Plus, if customers have queries we can ring suppliers and pass on that information, which is something that the multiples don’t really do.”

Healthy Route can be found at 18 Silver Street, Leicester LE1 5ET

Read about the winning store here...