What Dietary Supplement Brands Can Learn from Independent Retailers

An Ode to Harvest Moon Health & Nutrition

As many of you may do, I set my Google Alerts to track the brands we work with or that I’m interested in keeping current on. One of my Google Alerts feeds (which tracks Gaia Herbs) brought me this morning to an article from a local newspaper in West Milford, NJ, entitled “Harvest Moon Health & Nutrition Owners Retiring.”

In a small local paper’s story on two business owners’ retirement, deeper truths are revealed about the connection between dietary supplement brands and retailers.

Clicking through and reading the full article warmed my heart, and reinforced my deep appreciation for the independent health food store and its vital place in the dietary supplement ecosystem. In what deceptively appears to be a small local paper’s perfunctory story on the imminent retirement of two local business owners, deeper truths are revealed that say so much about the connection between dietary supplement brands and retailers.

Allow me to deconstruct the article:

John and Sally Malatras have been taking care of the nutritional needs of West Milford residents for close to 21 years and will be sorely missed now that they have decided to retire.

Notice here the emphasis on caretaking of the town’s residents, not just selling something. Caring creates loyalty, which is critical for small retailers who compete directly with stores that sell on price.

Their business, Harvest Moon Health & Nutrition, has offered the highest quality nutritional supplements and vitamins to their customers, as well as expert advice for optimum health.

At Pure Branding, we know from extensive consumer supplement brand research with retailers that these independent store owners are seen as experts in their communities, and customers will take what they recommend. This is why for years, supplement brands have emphasized education, believing that most independents would have staff that would stay long-term. It’s what kept these smaller stores alive and differentiated as the industry consolidated and bigger chains took over.

When he was just 11 years old, John Malatras became interested in weight lifting and herbal medicine and developed a passion for helping others achieve nutritional health. In addition to having a business degree, he has a diploma in herbal medicine and has increased his knowledge with additional courses and studies with many mentors.

We know from our research that independent store owners like John are passionately wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, and that they are seen more as a practitioner or trusted advisor than as a salesman by their customers.

John Malatras said they were very selective about the products they offered and used only the best quality products, with independent lab assays to back them up. “I need to have a relationship with the companies I do business with,” he said. The store carries both Gaia Herbs and New Chapter vitamins. “I know both herbalists personally and am happy with their work,” he added.

A small independent store obviously has to be selective about their inventory, as they don’t have the shelf space of a larger retailer. What I love here is that in reference to Gaia Herbs and New Chapter, he says he personally knows “both herbalists,” a reference to the great outreach that Ric Scalzo, founder of Gaia Herbs, and Paul Schulick, co-founder of New Chapter, have achieved over the years with their education platforms. The sale of New Chapter to P&G hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm. And enthusiasm and passion are key ingredients that often inform a store owner’s philosophy and opinion toward supplements in general, and brands in particular. Our research has shown that retailers and store staff are looking for brands that share their passion and beliefs – and put a stake in the ground around them. And once they’ve made that connection to the brand through those passionately-held beliefs, that will then be the first brand they refer their customers to.

“Many supermarket vitamins and supplements are made and sold in ‘high-potency’ dosages that the body cannot utilize and that may, in fact, be detrimental,” he said…“There’s more to nutrition than just absorption,” Malatras said, “Equally important is the body’s ability to utilize it….” “Many supplements are made from chemically isolated, rather than food-derived nutrients, and thus are not well-utilized by the body,” he said…“The best way to get nutrients is from whole food supplements which are superior to chemically isolated supplements.”

Supplement brands spend a lot of time and money educating store staff. Today, they find it harder and harder to educate because so many stores don’t hold onto their staff for any length of time. Malatras is now an exception rather than a rule, but that was not the case when he started. And he demonstrates how valuable he is because of this longevity and commitment. He has a clear point of view with regard to supplements, and this came from a combination of his own interest and the whole food supplement brands that had an impact on him. He goes on in the article to advise people to look for fermented or cultured whole food vitamins, providing additional specificity that was provided by one or two brands.

Leaving will be hard for the couple. “We made so many friends; met so many wonderful people. It’s just been a beautiful experience all the way,” John Malatras said. “It’s been the best years of my life. We started the store from scratch for all the right reasons. We wanted to be together, doing what we loved to do and helping people the best we could in the community.”

Kudos to John and Sally, and enjoy your retirement. Although I’ve never met you, you represent the archetype of the independent health food store, and the brands in the supplement space have learned as much from you as you have from them.