Nature’s Gold has been one of Ireland’s most popular health stores for years. With a new concession opened in a popular Dublin shopping destination, the future is bright, finds Rachel Symonds. healthfoodbusiness.co.uk April 2014.
Brod Kearon’s journey to the natural health industry was borne from a desire to simply eat better for himself and today remains a passionate advocate of such a way of life.
While at university in the 1970’s, Brod grew tired of traditional student fare, and so began to teach himself about healthy eating. But this was in the mid ’70’s, when it wasn’t the norm for people, and especially students, to eat in such a way. In fact, Brod says he was seen as “this crazy Irish guy”.
But fast forward to 2014, and Brod’s foresight that this was an industry with potential has been proved right as he now has his original store, Nature’s Gold, in Greystones, near Dublin, and a recently opened second shop, a concession within the very stylish, mini-department store Avoca, outside the city centre.
“I still find it interesting from a business point of view” he said, adding: “The trade has become much more professional over the years. When we first opened, we were very niche. Now it has become much more mainstream. “There is a lot more competition now, and supply has gone to other outlets such as pharmacies and supermarkets, but we are still niche because we have the knowledge base.”
It was when Brod was studying at the University of London that he first began to look for an alternative in terms of food. “I had become fed up with the food in the canteen and began frequenting health food shops, buying things like brown rice and lentils. I began experimenting, bought a few books and cooked different things. My fellow students thought I was a crazy Irish guy eating this weird food” he said.
When he returned home to Ireland in the mid 1970’s, he couldn’t find work in his chosen field, geology, and so began working on building sites. But it was his new found knowledge of healthy eating that really took his interest.
“I came home with a lot more knowledge about healthy eating and understood more about what you eat is
what makes you” he explained. “Then I came across someone in the industry, she owned an independent health food store in Dublin and was one of the first health food retailers in Ireland.”
Brod benefited from much of her knowledge, being educated about how to go about setting up a health food store, what products to stock and what not to stock.
“At that time in Ireland, there were two kinds of health stores; there were very few to begin with, but the majority were what was known as wholefood shops, and then there were others stocking a variety of supplements and natural skincare products,” Brod recalled. “But there was nothing like the range there is now.” Instead of choosing one of the two types of store, however, Brod decided there was a future in mixing the two. “No one at the time was mixing them to a great degree. I felt it was a natural way of doing things.”
The store opened in 1977 once Brod had found the right premises in the town of Greystones, not far from Dublin. But even that wasn’t plain sailing.
He recalled: “I found a ground floor apartment that used to be a shop but someone had just taken it. We managed to persuade him to move to the apartment upstairs and I spent all my savings, which was a total of £750, that was a lot in those days, on stock for the shop. I had to he very creative and rearrange everything so that the shelves would look fuller!”
Of course, it took time for the business to build, and they used customers to help guide them with the products to stock. But even back then, Brod would do things such as tastings to attract interest.
Over the years, Brad has also been heavily involved in campaigning against the various regulations that have come into force, such as the Food Supplements Directive, with a lot of his work being around interpreting what the legislation meant.
Brod has considered expanding the number of stores he had over the years, but says that the figures for opening a standalone store did not stack up. When he was approached by Avoca last year, it seemed the obvious move; Avoca is a stylish shopping experience, with various concessions within the store and a large and popular restaurant upstairs, and the second Nature’s Gold opened in November 2013.
“It seemed like a good choice as everything was in place more or less, we had heating, lighting, the only thing we needed to do was come up with shelving,” Brod said. “Everything goes through their tills so we didn’t have to buy an EPoS system, and it is run on a commission basis, I don’t pay a rent, so it is based on how well the store is doing,”
They are still marketing the store, however, to let the local area know that Nature’s Gold has opened in Avoca. “Like any other store, it is about marketing,” he said. The stock offering is similar across the two stores, although Brod has noticed trends emerging, even after being open only a few months. “There are things that fly off the shelf here that don’t at Greystones, and vice versa,” he commented.
In terms of the stock offering, Brod says it has certainly changed over the years, with more of a focus today on VMS products. “Supplements have grown a lot over the years. When I first opened, I would say it was 70 percent food and 30 percent supplements, but now it is 60 percent supplements and 40 percent food,” Brod said. “We are seeing a lot of demand for special dietary products, such as gluten and dairy free, and superfoods have become popular.”
On the food side, the key brands are Biona and Suma, while Solgar and Viridian are important VMS brands. Also in stock is Higher Nature, Nature’s Plus, Terra Nova, A.Vogel and Pharma Nord. Body and skin care is incredibly well catered for, with big selections from the likes of Trilogy, Jason, Faith in Nature, Weleda and a new French range, called Phyts.
When questioned how he decides on what brands to stock, quality is at the forefront, with Brod saying they would look for products that were made to GMP standards.
Independent health food stores have their niche because the staff that work there are well qualified and able to advise, and Brod has invested in his team. There are qualified nutritionists within the staff, and all will study for the certificate with the Health Food Institute.
“Health Food Institute training is something we do, it is a requirement of membership of the IAHS that staff are trained in the certificate. It is important we do it because it adds to the reputation of the store,” he said.
Brod adds that the team, which numbers 13 across both the stores, are what makes the business a success, and he wants to see them thrive.
‘Part of the reason I did this second store was for the staff. They are brilliant and I want to leave a legacy to carry on with if I retire, “he said.
For the future, the plan is to continue developing the new concession store, promoting both shops, and Brod adds that they are also focusing on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.