Seven stores brimming with knowledge

Evergreen Healthfoods puts staff education at the heart of its mission.


Few in Ireland were surprised when Evergreen Healthfoods collected the Training and Education Award in the Health Stores Ireland/Better Retailing Magazine retailer awards in September.

Of the seven-store Galway chain’s 50 staff, 30 hold the Health Food Institute Certificate in health food retailing and 20 the Diploma, with some boasting both. All sales staff are put forward for the certificate course after a year working at Evergreen.

“Each Evergreen shop is held together by a strong ethos of commitment to staff training,” says training manager Polly Morgan. “When a new staff member starts in Evergreen, I say to them that this isn’t just a workplace, it’s also a place of learning.”

Every staff member is presented with a copy of the IAHS protocol (adapted from the HFI protocol) on their first day – Evergreen places the protocol at the centre of all daily interactions with customers. “The Health Stores Protocol is such a great tool for starting conversations, learning about and ultimately helping the customer,” adds Polly.

Evergreen – the beating heart of Galway

Evergreen Healthfoods was opened in April 1992 by Aideen and Kieran Hurley (pictured above celebrating Evergreen’s 25th birthday with staff members). Aideen’s strong interest in natural health turned her interest into a business and with the help of her husband Kieran opened the first Evergreen store, located in the heart of Galway City. More than 26 years later, Evergreen Healthfoods has seven branches in and around the city of Galway.

The Evergreen Online shop recently celebrated 10 years of successful operation. The Evergreen website is also used as a showcase for blogs written by staff members.

All staff are sponsored by the company to study for the certificate in health food retailing after that first year, then the diploma. In fact, Evergreen Healthfoods produces more candidates for the certificates and diplomas than any other health store in the U.K or Ireland.

Staff in Evergreen Healthfoods have won ‘Best in UK and Ireland’ and ‘The Teddie Marston Award for Excellence’ many times over the years, and many of these have gone on to become managers and mentors with training roles.

All staff are taken off the shop floor weekly and given at least an hour of intensive training from either a nutritional therapist or an expert in the field of herbal remedies or health supplements. “That’s about 50 hours of paid training every year for each of our 50 or so staff members,” says Polly. “Evergreen would consider this an extremely good investment!”

Many current staff members are also studying with the College of Naturopathic Medicine Ireland. Full support is given to them in terms of scheduling their working hours around their study and exams.

Many of these employees write blogs on health matters for the Evergreen website, which also has an online shop. The blogs are an ideal tool for communicating with customers and allow staff to put their knowledge and passion for natural health into practice.

“Most importantly of all, we endeavour to keep an open dialogue between owners, managers and staff regarding what staff are interested in and what they feel they need to learn more about,” says Polly. “Training needs are dictated by the staff themselves.

“In this way, Evergreen, although it has grown so much, still manages to retain that family-run attitude. It doesn’t matter if a staff member has been with Evergreen for 20 years or two months, once they are part of the team, they are part of a culture of learning, growth and success.”

HFI course details from Alison Collingwood: email enquiries@healthfoodinstitute.org.uk, tel 0115 976 7280 or visit healthfoodinstitute.org. Discounts are available for NAHS member stores.

Irish Association of Health Stores (Health Stores Ireland), tel 08710 06721, email: alan@healthstores.ie, www.healthstores.ie

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