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A Cheerful & Irrational Natural Grocers

by Mark Cammack    February 3, 2020

Natural Grocers Store in Fayetteville, Arkansas
Natural Grocers Store in Dallas, Texas

Two Natural Grocers stores with different personalities: To the left we see the neat and cheerful Fayetteville, Arkansas location. To the right is a Dallas, Texas branch in need of improvement.

I first experienced the health food store chain Natural Grocers while visiting Arkansas. Their Fayetteville locale was well-maintained. The environment was relaxed and the people friendly. I inquired about a sample packet of a new vitamin formula. A smiling bearded fellow was knowledgeable of the products and responded they did not have those but may have others. The gentleman returned with a generous array of samples that were in stock including a new light blue plastic nasal cleansing device. He said they just had a special event at the store with extra sample items. He gave them all to me to try. While he did not have exactly what I was looking for initially, he made an unexpected and fantastic successful effort with customer service.

An easygoing lady was helpful regarding inventory in another department. A man, I believe his name was Jerry, was also considerate. I went back to that location several times because it was so pleasant. They could even be nicknamed Cheerful Grocers.

The Dallas, Texas, Casa Linda Garland Road store was different. Housed in a former aging movie theater, the drama and theatrics remain. Some employees were friendly, some distant, and one downright unfriendly. The house brand items from the prepackaged section were a good value. The produce fine and all organic.

A cashier called Kathleen according to receipts seemed to live at the register. She never smiled and rarely said anything. Friends that I went shopping with wondered what was wrong. One day the store had few customers. Kathleen was the sole worker at the checkout. We were ready to leave. Risking conversation, we asked her about the paucity of people. "They're at the football game. I don't like football. I think it's stupid," she flatly stated. So much for conversation.

A sudden difficulty began occurring at the registers in early January of 2020. The card payment terminals that had worked previously now demanded a pin for transactions or gave errors. I was told the manager had left and a young lady Stephanie assisted. She tried very hard but the devices at different registers were uncooperative. The regular entry method had problems. It was a race against the clock to do manual entry. There were only seconds to enter all the data. Errors resulted. I telephoned a friend in the area who formerly worked as a quality engineer. They arrived about 30 minutes later and had card troubles, too. The device rejected three cards until finally a fourth one went through. Concerns then mounted regarding card security and questionable programming. It turned out that Natural Grocers had been hacked previously.

Stephanie said she would let the manager know of the difficulty. I was to check back later and hopefully things would return to normal. There is a German saying Hoffnung ist keine Strategie. It translates to Hope is not a strategy. How true.

Over three weeks went by. I returned to Natural Grocers and asked Stephanie about the card issue. I was sure she would say she had spoken to the manager and it was all straightened out. I anticipated the relief of everything being fine. Instead I received a nervous person in near shock upon my arrival. "Well, we can try..." she replied timidly. It is not what a customer needs to hear. At that point I realized she may have forgotten to let the manager know.

In another part of the store, a friendly blond lady smiled and said hello as she was leaving an office. I asked a fellow about finding unfragranced lip balm. He took me to the appropriate section, glanced at a few items, and said,"I have another job to go do." At least I was in the right place to look for myself.

Then came checkout time. Much like the build-up to a Dallas Cowboys Football game, you never know what will happen. You only know that action is coming. There were two open registers. Stephanie had a long line of customers waiting with their items. Kathleen was all alone looking into space.

I said hello and placed my three items on the counter. Kathleen frowned while ringing up the purchase. The card terminal took the offensive and gave errors again. I asked which button, red or green, would work during part of the transaction. The reply was,"None of them." I asked again if she could let me know the appropriate button to push (since she seemed to be an expert at pressing other people's buttons). "It won't work," came the agitated reply. I then inquired if there was someone available who was familiar with the device. "Don't know," came the terse response. The machine timed out.

I was then going to explain why it was important to at least try, that there were security concerns if the unit was malfunctioning, and there was need for a follow-up. I began with I had spoken to Stephanie... and got no further. Kathleen suddenly bellowed over to Stephanie's register,"He said he talked with you!" Stephanie, now upset, fired back,"I don't know what to do!" The other customers looked on in amazement at the distraught employees. It was a scene that belonged more to a rowdy Texas Honky Tonk rather than a calm health food store.

Of course, the store manager was not around. A guess is that they were hiding in case the vitamin bottles started flying. That is only a guess, though. I paid for the small purchase with cash and got out of there, too. Perhaps a name change is in order for this locale. How does Irrational Grocers sound?

We have just experienced two stores in different locations under the same business chain. Which one would you like to shop at?

Key Lessons:

1. Business personnel must know their own products and services. Only by learning all aspects of the business coupled with the ability to assist others will suffice. If an employee is unaware of an area, they should be able to reach another who is capable.

2. If a guest is in need, an employee must have the ability to act wisely. Employees becoming upset or rude make matters worse. It gives the business an immature appearance. Reason and good customer care, not reactivity, finds solutions and wins friends.

3. Store persons should do what they say they will. It is important to communicate and follow-up with customers and staff as promised.

4. This is a no-brainer: Persons working with the public, such as at customer service or checkouts, should have good customer service skills. If a negative or crude individual is placed there, it can reflect poorly on the store and cause discomfort to the guests. Positive people with good minds and hopefully hearts win in this role. What type of employee do you like to interact with?

© Copyright 2020 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.