All things bright and beautiful

In the first of our series on health store refurbishment, Gerald Colfer talks us through his makeover at Only Natural in Wexford, Ireland.

I had eagerly anticipated Only Natural's refurb before we undertook the task last Autumn. What I didn't realise was the immensity of the job.

At 280 sq.m., Only Natural is one of Ireland's biggest health stores and moving the quantity of stock to fill that space while repositioning and adjusting shelving, fixtures and fittings is no small task.

Even for my own staff and hired hands from the design company we were working with, the amount of work involved was tremendous. We closed at six on Saturday in anticipation of reopening on Monday morning and, despite working round the clock, didn't open our doors to the public until after lunch on Tuesday. So, if you're considering a refurb, don't underestimate the work involved!

I worked with a designer called Marie Berkery who came highly recommended and who, having executed similar projects with other Irish independent health store owners, knew our industry well. Marie offered me two proposed plans, one with significant but less radical change of layout and a more daring plan which completely turned the shop on its head.

In for a penny in for a pound, or in this case in for a cent in for a euro – I saw the sense in the more ambitious turnaround and opted for that. It involved breaking up two long gondolas which had run the length of the shop, repositioning the cash point from one end to a central position, and emptying a lobby area which had previously housed promotional lines.

The result, Marie promised me, would be a better shopping experience for our customers with a greater and easier 'flow' designed to ensure that customers 'shopped the whole shop', better delineation into 'departments' and a more appealing and inviting, de-cluttered shop entrance.

On the whole these promises have been made good on. Customers have unanimously commented on the 'better flow' and said that the shop now feels 'way bigger'. From a security viewpoint, we feel more in control. There are still some blind spots but all high value items are now closer to our centrally positioned till.

We still have to reap some of the benefits of our refurb for two reasons. Firstly because we completed it just prior to the Christmas season, we haven't as yet completed the 'dressing' phase where we set our own unique stamp on the shop with appropriate signage and the 'props' which will set the tone of the new store. And secondly because I haven't yet come to grips with the opportunity to review my stock policy both in 'culling' those areas which aren't 'pulling their weight', and looking for the new lines that will further enhance the sense of newness that I want the shop to have.

I feel that, almost three months after the actual refurb, the process of renewal still has a way to go. Is a retail environment forever in the process of reinventing itself? To avoid staleness and keep the customer interested, I think the answer has to be yes. Nor have we even started to work on the shop's exterior where the customer's very first impression is made. That hectic weekend was only the beginning.

Despite the fact that, after 31 years in business, Only Natural is still very much a 'work in progress', I'm glad I took the plunge. In a rapidly changing retail environment, self-reinvention would seem to be par for the course. Nor do I regret taking on the services of a 'retail designer'; I don't think I'd have had that 'broadness of vision' if left to my own devices.

Next, the exterior refurb will happen at some time in the next few months. It’s not ideal, as I'd like to have done everything in one operation, but must now wait for time and funds to oblige.

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