Brought to you by the Irish Association of Health Stores, RUDE HEALTH at the RDS is the only natural health show in these islands, where your questions will be answered face to face by experts. This year, we thought we’d let you hear from some homegrown experts who have been giving face to face advice daily for many years: The Health Store Owners.
September 11th & 12th
I first opened the doors of Open Sesame, in Ennis, during the summer of 1988. It was a very small, homemade-style store with shelves made up of raw forestry “slobs”. Very much a family venture, we were determined to introduce wholesome, interesting, local and imported foodstuffs to the changing Irish palate.
Aside from writing out recipes and researching supplements, we found the “miracle” we could perform was to get the bowels of Clare moving, and this hasn‘t changed. A typical morning would see the arrival of fresh, local, goats’ milk, freshly picked organic veg and wholemeal sourdough bread delivered from Lough Bunny, still warm. We used zero technology and focused on high quality local produce.
Serious nutritional training led us to encourage cutting edge supplements into Ireland, with Solgar launching here in 1997. These herbs and vitamins, combined with good dietary advice, worked for so many people that we soon gained a positive reputation and loyal customer base. Boom years followed and life got a little bit crazier for everyone. We were able to move into a bigger and brighter premises and, in 2001, we were ready to open our second branch, in Gort.
As my hometown, it had always been my dream to open there and spread the word through regular talks and seminars linking in with the community. Similar to Ennis, here we have seen our customer base grow to include people from every background imaginable. It no longer seems to be considered weird and alternative to enjoy a healthy diet of brown rice and lentils! Now, more people are flirting with self-sufficiency than ever before, and attitudes reflect this.
I can find myself refilling a litre of washing up liquid for a customer one minute, and the next I’m e-mailing a contact in Japan about the contents of a new, cutting edge supplement. I remember a colleague saying to me during difficult times, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just sell nails and hammers?” He may well have been right, but for me, the easy route is rarely the most fulfilling!
For more info, visit www.opensesame.ie
Aideen & Kieran Hurley
Evergreen Healthfoods have been at the heart of Galway since 1992. From small beginnings as a wholefoods deli on Mainguard Street, Aideen & Kieran Hurley have expanded several times over the years, with the chain now consisting of 5 stores. They also have a large online presence with their website, allowing the business to sell to customers outside of Galway into a nationwide market.
In the late 80s, Aideen developed a keen interest in health foods, and quickly realised that Galway didn’t really have a store that catered specifically to vegetarians or those with food allergies. So, with some retail experience behind her, and a lot of research, Evergreen was set up.
The business stocked a wide range of flours, beans, grains, lentils, herbs, spices, herbal teas and soya products. ‘We took a lot of time to talk with customers and find out what else they were looking for and also what they weren’t able to get.’ says Aideen. ‘We responded to this, did some research, and grew our range of products that way.’
By 1993, the business was going very well and the people of Galway were responding very positively. The range of products grew, as did the staff numbers. In fact, the business had done so well in its first year that another outlet was opened in November 1993 in the Galway Shopping Centre.
Evergreen quickly became a one-stop-shop for people looking for healthier options in life. ‘If people choose to take the healthier option or change their lifestyle in a positive way, we want to make it as easy for them as possible. Having it all under one roof makes it more convenient at a time when convenience is key in retail,’ says Aideen.
Evergreen is now a well-known brand across the country. What started off as a wholefoods deli, is now a fully-stocked health food emporium. From nuts and seeds to vitamins and herbs, organic skincare and nappies to eco-friendly cleaning products and sports nutrition, Evergreen still prides itself on responding to customer requests.
For more info, visit www.evergreen.ie
An Tobairín began life in Bandon very tentatively, tucked away from the centre and just out of the main stream. Ten years later, we find ourselves right in the middle of the main street and very much a part of the bustling business town.
Over the years, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of our shop as a meeting place. Customers love to stop and chat and share life’s joys and sorrows. It’s far from idle chatter, though. This building was home to the local tailor for many years before us and I like to imagine that much of what we do here facilitates a seamless line of local, wise conversation. The warmth among the staff and customers is palpable and we all benefit hugely from the resulting sense of community.
We do other things too, though! Our customers are very well-informed and conscious consumers, and they expect exceptional attention from us. We do our best to provide just that, along with the very best organic food, quality supplements, ethical and environmentally-friendly body care and household products, not to mention professional advice and information.
In order to complement what we already offer, we added a therapy centre, called Fionnuisce, a couple of years ago, and this has attracted a number of outstanding complementary and alternative practitioners to the town. It offers an extra service to customers and facilitates learning and debate through evening classes and events… giving us more to talk about in An Tobairín!
The floods that devastated this town last November and the recent state of our banks have been a sobering experience indeed, but we have survived. It has offered us new insight into the fragile nature of trade and reinforced our awareness as consumers and traders of our total interdependence. This awareness, along with the consolidating effect of shared community effort, will be, I believe, the tide that lifts the spirit of the town and, I hope, keeps the An Tobairín and Fionnuisce boats afloat for many years to come.
I had worked in the Healthfood retail business for over 10 years when I decided to set up my own business. I had done it for so long for somebody else that I decided it was probably the time to go out and do it for myself, so I decided to open up a store out in Bray. It was great because I had worked with a number of people in the industry with vast experience who joined me at the time.
That was 11 and a half years ago. Back then, our customers were mainly women, but now we appeal to all age groups and both sexes.
From our perspective, the most important part of what we do is to develop a sense of community between our staff and our customers. We pay a huge amount of attention to getting to know our customers in all 3 stores.
I’ve always enjoyed the shop floor part of what we do; talking to customers and enjoying what they have to say to us. The feedback from customers is so hugely important and, thankfully, in 99% of cases, they tell me how brilliant our staff are and how good our service is and how they love coming into our stores; so that makes me feel really good about what we do and continues to motivate me about why we do it; and it’s also great to hear that our staff (the majority of whom have been with us for so long) are still doing what they love doing.
The Rude Health Show is a great support for our industry, and long may it continue. More and more people are becoming aware of it, and it gives us a big chance to expose our industry to a greater audience, and that’s what we need in the current economic climate: for people to see what is going on in our industry and to see how professionally it’s being run across the board. That’s why we love that it’s there.
For more info, call Bray: 012762669, Crumlin: 014550323 or Grafton Street: 016710166
Other Stores we like:
Healing Harvest – Kinvara, Galway