Better Retailing Secret Shopper Awards 2014 – Winner

Martin and Linda Sellar receiving their award

The Health Shop in Inverness is the proud winner of this year’s Better Retailing Secret Shopper Award. We find out the secret of their success.

Our Secret Shopper had a really positive experience when she visited The Health Shop in Inverness, and was impressed before she even went inside, noting that ‘the outside of the store is bright, painted with flowers and… as soon as I step inside, I am greeted by a member of the staff with a hello and a smile for me and my baby.’

Owner Martin Sellar tells us a bit about the history of the store. “Our shop has been going since the early 1960s. My father originally had a grocer’s shop, and there was an increasing number of people coming in and asking for healthy foods like dried fruits and wholefoods. Customers were going to Glasgow or Edinburgh and stocking up on these things in health food stores. So he spotted a gap in the market in Inverness, an opportunity. I’ve worked in the shop myself since I was a wee boy packing up in the back, but I officially took over in 1984."

A family business

Our Secret Shopper was also struck by the friendliness of the staff. Martin puts this partly down to the fact that it’s a family-run business. “If you go through the list of the people who work, or have worked, in The Health Shop, it does look like a family affair! My wife, Linda, has always worked there. She is in the store on a day-to-day basis, while I base myself at home dealing with the orders and suppliers. We also have Caroline, who is Linda’s sister, who is the shop manager and has worked with me since 1985. Our other staff members include Faith, a convert from Holland and Barrett, Natasha, Rachel and Jenny, who has left, come back, left and come back about three or four times. Then our newest member of staff is Abby, who just joined us a few weeks ago. Our daughter Rachel helps out with things like the Facebook page, and we get help from our son Andrew, especially during refits. In 2006 we had a major overhaul, and modernised all our shelving, replacing the 1980s steel shelving with lots of attractive wooden shelves, and he was a great help with that.”

Onwards and outwards

The Secret Shopper noted that the store ‘feels bright, and is immaculately clean, fresh and well organised.’ This pleases Martin – the team have put in a lot of work in the last few years, expanding the shop by buying premises next door. “That was a brilliant opportunity to increase our stock, and to try new things. The shop had started to feel a bit cramped. Previously we had chillers and one small freezer, but now we’ve got much more space for refrigerated and frozen products. This was mainly in response to customer requests. We had people who wanted to buy different kinds of tofu, healthy yoghurts, and dairy-free spreads and cheeses. We also stock vegetarian bacon and sausages, and other meat-free chilled and frozen foods. The demand for that kind of thing has definitely increased in recent years, as more people become aware of healthy eating and vegetarianism and veganism have become a bit more mainstream. The extra space means we can experiment, too; we’ve recently started stocking Booja-Booja chocolate truffles, which need to be chilled, that’s something we’ve never done before.

The exterior of the Health Store

“We have also expanded our range of natural skincare in recent years, so it’s particularly pleasing that BRM’s Secret Shopper found what she needed in the skincare line, and that she got good advice, too. We stocked a couple of ranges for years, and there was never a huge amount of interest, but four years ago we were visited by some reps from new brands, and we tried stocking some different products which have been increasing in popularity. I think there’s a growing awareness in consumers that you have to be aware of what you put on your skin, as well as what you eat and drink. Abby, who has just started working here, used to work in a beauty shop, so we are hoping that she can bring her expertise to this area so we can keep expanding it.”

Loyal customers

Martin also emphasises the great rapport between his staff and their customers. “We have lots of regulars who have been coming in from the time of my father, and we get new ones all the time. There is a rule in retail that you lose about 20 per cent of your customers every year, and the challenge is to replace those with new ones. So there’s a continual challenge to keep doing the things that you’re good at so that you retain your loyal customers, but also try new things and keep up with the times so that you attract new people to your store. That’s not always easy, but so far we seem to be doing ok!”

This is borne out by our Secret Shopper’s observations, as she noted: “There is a constant stream of people in and out of the store while I am there and it has a happy atmosphere. It is a lovely store to visit and it’s difficult to find fault with my shopping experience.”

Changing times

Winning this year’s Better Retailing Award means a lot to the whole team at The Health Shop. “We are really proud of our team and of the work that we do in our store, and it’s so nice to be appreciated and to have our hard work recognised,” says Martin. “We will be putting our plaque in pride of place in the shop! It’s not always easy running an independent health food store in these changing times, but we are very aware of the importance of customer service, and good advice; you can’t get that from a computer screen. We make sure that the staff that work here are friendly, and genuinely interested in the customers. The right manner is the most important thing. We don’t care if they are experts in the field – we can provide training and all of that – but they need to be happy and cheerful doing the job, otherwise the customers won’t be happy either. And the fact that your Secret Shopper had such a great experience helps us to feel that we are getting it right!”

The Health Shop can be found at 20 Baron Taylor's Street, Inverness IV1 1QG

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