World of Nutrition, Nampa, ID
History, trust and knowledge built the foundation for World of Nutrition. But joining a downtown revitalization effort has proven to be a move well worth making for this community-minded Idaho health food store.
In many American cities and towns, downtown districts languished beginning in the mid-1960s, as customers were diverted to new shopping centers and malls. Recently though, revitalization efforts are slowly transforming these neglected central business districts and Nampa, ID, a city of just under 89,000 residents, is also poised for a comeback.
Kris and Allison Wear, partners in marriage and retail store ownership, took a chance on renovating one of Nampa’s historical downtown buildings to create a new home for their established health food store, World of Nutrition, or WON.
“In September 2015 we moved the entire store over Labor Day weekend and only closed for three hours,” said Kris Wear, co-owner and CEO.
The move turned out to be fruitful. “We are forecasting to hit $1 million in sales in 2016,” she said. “We were up 20 percent after the move to our new location and are up 15 percent overall for the year.”
Ebbs and Flows
WON has had a history of success as well as a need, at times, to pull itself up by its bootstraps—or, more accurately, its Birkenstocks. The store was established 39 years ago in 1977 by Jim and Cheryl Wear, Kris Wear’s parents, in Karcher Mall—once a shopping mecca in southwestern Idaho’s Treasure Valley region. The first store was 800 square feet.
Then in 1980, WON moved to a nearby location that was 1,200 square feet. “That store was cool,” Kris Wear recalled. “The decor was all rough wood and had custom-built wood shelving. The office was upstairs and had a balcony overlooking the store. It had a little deli in the back that served sandwiches and frozen yogurt.”
Around 1984, Cheryl Wear opened a second store in Boise that she ran for about 18 months before selling it. “With the bad economy in 1987, mom decided to ditch the mall with all of the long hours and the high rent,” Kris Wear said. “She moved down the boulevard to a strip mall across from Fred Meyer [supermarket] into a 1,700-square-foot store. With that move, she also secured the Birkenstock dealership for Nampa. By 1995, we were busting at the seams in our 1,700 square feet, so we moved down the street to a more comfortable 3,000-square-foot location. Despite the fact that the store was probably at the worst intersection in Nampa, our business grew and grew.”
When the Birkenstock business slowed, the owners sought out another venture to maintain success. “With our love for animals and having seen firsthand the effects of feeding a low quality diet to our own dogs and changing to a high quality food free from wheat, corn and soy has on their health, it seemed natural for us to get into the pet food business. In 2006 the 1,500-square-foot space next to us opened up and we busted through the wall and completely remodeled and updated the store without closing for a day.”
In June of 2013, Kris Wear bought WON from her mother. That October, Allison Wear quit her job at a hospital to join the store staff. The following year, Allison and Kris Wear became business partners, purchased the historical building in downtown and began renovations.
Points of Differentiation
The WON staff works hard to offer a unique retailing experience. Kristen Perschon, store manager, said the retailer distinguishes itself through excellent customer service and training its staff on the products carried.
“When we hire new people they have assigned readings every shift, go through aisle trainings on each section, and have to learn about all the bulk herbs we carry,” Perschon said. “We schedule any training we can from the companies that provide them. Staff completes trainings online through the 3point5 program, which every quarter has new trainings from some of our best-selling products, such as Nordic Naturals. We take every opportunity we can to educate our staff, our customers and ourselves. We have a class nearly every Saturday of the month all year long. We differentiate ourselves by doing extensive product research and continuously learn about what our suppliers are doing to provide top quality ingredients. We work with a local pediatrician who prefers to first treat his patients through diet and nutritional supplementation to provide the quality supplements he prescribes for the optimal health of his patients. We work with a company called Provider Resources that creates educational opportunities for those that care for disabled people. We teach classes that meet their needs and provide them with an ongoing 20 percent discount as we recognize the incredibly hard work they do every day.”
Pragmatic Approach to Growth
Sales have increased almost every year in the history of WON, according to Kris Wear. Even when the economy was down, WON was up about 5 percent each year. “In 2013, I set a goal to do $1 million. It will only take me three years to accomplish that goal. I have done everything I can to grow the business with a grass-roots effort. After buying my mom out I couldn’t afford to do much marketing so I took to social media, in-store promotions, education and word of mouth. Every effort we have made has paid off, maybe not with a flood of business but with a steady stream that continues to build and grow.”
Always considered a “health food store” dedicated to selling nutritional supplements, the retailer’s departments are currently divided this way:
• Supplements/Herbs/Protein, 60 percent
• HABA, 10 percent
• Tea, 5 percent
• Bulk herbs and spices, 10 percent
• Groceries, 7 percent
• Pet food, 7 percent
• Books, 1 percent
“We average about 100 customers per day,” Kris Wear added. “Our beautiful bulk herb wall, also a fixture in the previous store, has seen a 60 percent increase in sales since the move.” The store’s most popular bulk products come from Starwest Botanicals, such as organic Essiac Tea, Whole Osha Root, Goldenseal Root Powder, Slippery Elm Bark Powder and Beeswax Beads. There’s also the Roslyn’s Energizer Drink, a WON blend inspired by nutritional consultant Roslyn Rogers, which is a blend of organic maca, coacao, cinnamon, turmeric and ginger.
Competition of the brick and mortar type is not big in the immediate area, Kris Wear said. “In Nampa we have one or two GNC stores and the grocery store Fred Meyer that has a small health food section.” But in nearby Boise, there are Natural Grocers, Vitamin Shoppe, Whole Foods Market, one independent health food store and a “good” co-op. “The people that live in Nampa have no problem driving to Boise to buy products,” she said. “But I would imagine our biggest competition is the internet and big-box stores. Giving the customer a great experience every time they walk through the door is how we keep ourselves different and relevant.”
Prior to becoming the new residence of WON, the historical building on First Street in Nampa housed a men’s clothing retail store. “When Kris and I first walked into the building we thought we could change out the flooring, reuse some of the shelving and open for business. Funny how the more time you have, the more you plan,” said Allison Wear. “We thought there might be brick behind the shelving, but also knew we had to remove asbestos if we wanted to get to it. It was so worth it!”
During the course of designing the new store, the couple searched the internet to look at shelving. “We had planned to move our existing bulk herb shelving to the new location until one day we came across a photo of industrial pipe shelving with a brick backdrop. I said to Kris, “That’s it! That is our bulk herb wall shelving.”
The design plan then materialized organically. “During our demolition of the space we uncovered old shelving. All of the wood used for our bulk herb wall was repurposed from the men’s clothing store. Many longtime customers remark about the bulk herb wall and are shocked when we tell them [the building] has always had it. It is truly a work of art!”
The pair said they found beauty and history in the building, and even forged a friendship with its previous owners. “We would visit the owner during the buying process where we learned more about the building and explored every inch we could. They became part of our family and many are now customers of WON. It was as if Kris and I were meant to buy the building and for it to be the new home of WON. I absolutely love coming to work in this building every day. I love sitting up in my office, “on top of the World.” I can see people come in the door, the park across the street and the trains going by. We love it so much, we sold our house and moved into apartments upstairs. We love being part of the downtown community!”
Appealing to the Senses
The WON staff does its best to create a positive experience for everyone that walks through the door, according to the owners. “The store smells amazing,” said Kris Wear, “and almost everyone that comes in comments on that. We welcome and love every person without judgment. We extensively train our staff so they are capable of answering most questions. We offer a great rewards program. We offer free classes. We offer a free cup of Tulsi tea to everyone that comes in. We offer kisses from two adorable French bulldogs and a big sweet chocolate lab. We have locally made kombucha on tap. We have high quality products and a wide product selection. We listen to and hug our customers.”
Kris Wear explained that she always wanted the store to be like the TV show “Cheers” where everyone knows your name and you are treated like a friend. “With the staff,” she said, “I like a laid back atmosphere. I am not a micromanager and I know mistakes happen. We have a lot of fun and there is constant laughter in the store either between the staff or with customers.”
Sales, Freight and Receiving Associate, Brenda Farrar, said she believes it’s the customer service and WON’s wide range of products that keep customers coming back. “Before I worked here, I would love coming in,” she said. “There was always a smiling face and someone eager to help me with what I was looking for and to offer advice when needed. It’s a place that offers a good atmosphere, a knowledgeable staff and many items you cannot find in other stores.”
Kristen Perschon, store manager, added, “Kris has built an incredible reputation in the community for the past 39 years. We develop personal relationships with our customers. We take the time to listen and ask questions to help them choose the products that are going to benefit them the most. We make sure to provide the highest quality supplements and have a price point that works for everyone. We run great sales each month. We have a generous reward program [called WON Love] and provide coupons in our newsletter and on our app.”
It should come as no surprise to those in the health food store business that education is very important to WON’s customers—a search of the store’s Google reviews reveals “knowledgeable staff” mentioned consistently.
According to Kris Wear, she does not have a “formal” education, however, her on-the-job training is extensive. “I was a jack-of-all-trades within the business from the beginning. I have done every job in the store and have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge in both the business of retail and with my own health. I have attended industry seminars, workshops and manufacturer trainings for the past 39 years.” Allison Wear comes from a customer service and IT background, and had been on the build side of an electronic medical records installation at a local hospital prior to joining the WON staff. “She was a perfect person to get the POS I had purchased up and running,” Kris Wear said. “All of the staff has studied health and nutrition in some form or fashion and came to work here because they wanted to pursue their passion for health.”
Cassie Hinnenkamp, a store associate, said the staff attends classes and does daily product trainings. “We are professional, yet approachable.”
Sales Associate and Essential Oil Expert Emarene Knowles agreed, describing the store atmosphere as somewhat structured but with the freedom to be yourself. “There is definitely encouragement and empowerment. It is also a very approachable, understanding and how else could I say it, loving environment. Everyone is very knowledgeable and comes from multiple backgrounds, some have college and some are self-taught. We are always doing trainings and mandatory readings.”
Reuse and Recycle
When it comes to store eco-friendliness, Kris Wear noted that WON has always been dedicated to recycling. “Even when we had to take the recyclables to our own home to have it picked up. We still have to take the glass we recycle to Boise to drop it off. We are happy to do that for any customers.”
In the new store, the owners recycled as much wood as they could for shelving. All of the cabinets in the previous business were turned into the shelving for the bulk herb wall and a bar built behind a space designated for the couples’ three dogs was made from the ceiling joists that were taken down.
In addition, the staff has begun to recycle the glass used at the store and encourages customers to bring back their empties. “We donate it to a non-profit company in Boise called Usful Glassworks—a job training program that repurposes the recycled glass into handcrafted and beautiful drinking glasses, lanterns and everything else in between,” explained Perschon. “Their job training participants include the jobless, homeless, refugees, low income seniors, at risk youth and those on probation or parole. We also recycle all other plastic bottles that are brought back to us. We have donated seeds, diatomaceous earth, neem oil, starter plants and time to help support the local community garden.”
Confronting and overcoming obstacles and staying nimble are key for achieving success in any endeavor. “It seems that in business there is always some sort of challenge,” Kris Wear acknowledged. “Everything from employees to suppliers to the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and government regulations to the economy seems to be a challenge. Every time we have gotten down we have figured out how to make something else work. Trends happen and you have to change with the times in this industry.”
In fact, Kris Wear said, the area of town the store moved to is a bit of a challenge in location. “The downtown is on the verge of a revitalization and we took a chance that it would actually happen. We hoped that the majority of our clientele would follow us and most of them have. They are still coming in for the first time almost one year after we have moved.”
To address the possibility of customer no-shows, the store’s staff decided to get involved with its community and not be shy about its mission to make an entire town healthy. “We have a great website,” Kris Wear said, “make an effort as much as time allows for social media, we advertise in our local paper, we were a sponsor and weigh-in location for one of the local hospital’s weight-loss challenges, we do at least one free educational class a week and have one monthly walk/run to get people involved in exercise.”
Examples of the store’s recent calendar of events featured free classes on topics such as Toolbox for Health, 101 Uses for Coconut Oil, as well as Herbal Tinctures WON “0” WON. The store’s Escentuals for Kids class is designed to help parents discover which essential oils are safe to use on children, at what ages, and at the proper dilution.
The storeowners are civic leaders, as well. Both Kris and Allison Wear serve as members of the BID (Business Improvement District) board in town. Allison Wear volunteers for several of the Main Street committees and Kris Wear is the chair for Economic Vitality Committee and interim president of the Main Street board. “We also attend Chamber of Commerce events regularly, city council meetings, Kris has spoke for the Chamber at an event, Empowering Women in Business,” Allison Wear explained. “Both of us have been asked to speak in August for the NEO (Nampa Entrepreneurs Organization) on Building Your Business Brand. We have collaborated with a local restaurant to offer healthy meal options (WON Approved) on their menu, provided them with recipes with approved ingredients. We donate slow moving products to a local homeless shelter. We also donated a dog waste station to the new city park across the street from the store.”
A top-selling brand at WON is Schwabe North America. The retailer has been a long time Nature’s Way and Enzymatic Therapy supporter and the companies have been long time supporters of WON, according to Kris Wear. “Over the years we have been to their facilities for staff trainings and they have given us a great discount program to be able to pass along to customers.” In addition, “Nutraceutical has always been a popular choice because they are a health food store-only company,” she noted. “People are not going to find most of their products in the big box stores. Garden of Life (GOL) has really taken off with us over the past year. We may have been late to jump on the GOL bandwagon but with the partnership of Dr. Perlmutter and their commitment to high-quality non-GMO (genetically modified organism) products have really resonated with our customers and us. Country Life has always been one of our top sellers. We appreciate their support, trainings, high quality certified, verified and all other certificates that they have committed to. Europharma and specifically the Curamin and Curamed products are some of our best repeat selling products in the store. They offer great literature and education for staff as well as sending Terry Lemerond out to do a consumer lecture.”
WON’s customers seek help with gut health, mood disorders, sleep issues, lack of energy, allergies, men’s and women’s hormone health. Farrar added that other common problems are diabetes, weight loss, pain and prostate issues.
“Customers want high-quality products that will be effective and they want to be educated about what they are buying,” Kris Wear said.
“People are really sick,” noted Allison Wear, “[they] want help and want to be educated about natural remedies. Almost everyone has digestive, sleep, stress, inflammation and pain issues.”
In the future, Perschon said she would like to become a functional health coach and work more intensively with customers in the store. “I would love to see us move more into natural grocery or develop a relationship with a grocery retailer so we can help people learn to shop and prepare meals to make true lifestyle changes. I love the relationships we are developing with doctors and practitioners in the area who are seeing a need for their patients that is beyond traditional medical care. I want to continue to build on those and create even more. For us as a team, there are no limits.”
Kris Wear agreed. “We really want to build a website that looks and feels as good as our brick and mortar store. We have discussed expanding locations and going into the Boise market since there is only one health food store there. We will continue to blog and use social media to build our brand. The possibilities for the future seem endless!” VR