Step inside a bulk food store and time stands still. Barrels of nuts, grains and produce serve as oases of temptations as shoppers stroll by en route to refrigerator cases loaded with big slabs of meat and bountiful displays of fish. It’s almost impossible to avoid the intoxicating smell of exotic spices wafting in the air. Bulk food stores offer huge helpings of nostalgia in addition to health food, so if owning this type of food bazaar sounds particularly appetizing, this article can help you turn an empty store into a place people love to come—for the food and the experience.
Conduct, or have someone conduct for you, a feasibility study to determine whether the store you have chosen is in an area that attracts bulk food buyers. Do some digging to find out if there are one or more potential competitors within a 25-mile radius. Apply for variances, licenses and permits mandated by the state, county and community once you’re satisfied that you’re in a good location.
Oversee the build-out of the store to suit the bulk shopper. Construct permanent signs that instruct bulk shoppers on the ins and outs of buying produce, meat and staples in large quantities. Plan to install bag dispensers adjacent scales and order a large supply of oversized scoops so shoppers can help themselves from barrels and crates of food.
Secure food suppliers, furniture and equipment. Visit local purveyors, farmers and distributors to evaluate price and food options. Keep several types of distributors on speed dial, even if you decide to use one main supplier in meat/dairy, perishables and packaged goods so you always have a backup if deliveries are late. Purchase plenty of scales.
Establish a markup policy to align your costs with the goals and objectives of your business plan and projected profits. Communicate with advisers, consultants and organizations serving the bulk food industry to help with this if you need a refresher based on your first inventory orders. Play it safe at first; consider deeper markups once you've got your feet wet.
Hire staff and train them to understand the difference between chain supermarkets and bulk food stores. Purchase insurance to protect your store and employees. Consider the installation of an alarm system if your business is in high-crime area.
Plan an open house to introduce your bulk food emporium to the community. Make it your policy to solicit new product suggestions from shoppers so your store becomes their favorite shopping headquarters. Position your store as the one that cares about patrons' choices and you’ll develop a loyal following of people who will always choose your location over chain supermarkets.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.