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"A man's success isn't measured by financial success, but by his humanity and charity."--Hartley Anderson 

This week I received an e-mail that stated that one giant megastore is now the biggest retailer in the United States. The e-mail proceeded to list other facts such as the sales from this retailer place it within the top 25 global economies. While I confess that I tend to be automatically suspicious of the veracity of mass e-mails, it did spur a flow of consciousness about the advantages that specialty retailers (such as health food stores, bike, running, and fitness shops) hold over mass-market retailers.

You can find dietary supplements and nutritional foods at many big box stores. And, oftentimes, yes, you can purchase these products and supplements cheaper than specialty retailers, but consumers need to be aware that there are also other trade-off costs that they pay for these lower prices.

  • Specialty Retailers Offer Specialty Knowledge. "Consumers go to specialty retailers specifically because they want the benefit of recommendations from knowledgeable staff," states Val John Anderson, MRI's Executive Vice-President and Director of Sales and Marketing, in the March 2011 issue of Vitamin Retailer. Specialty retailers are experts within their field and can provide useful tips and recommendations to consumers. Sure, you can do an online review, but a specialty retailer may also offer an insight about the product based on their personal experience using the product. Many specialty retailers carry products that they themselves use personally. To ask a staff member at a large chain store, which products they personally use and recommend can be unheard of. But chances are a specialty retailer has tried the product or at least can provide some feedback based on customers' feedback.  Also, specialty retailers can highlight issues a consumer may not otherwise have been aware of. For instance, many vitamins sitting on megastore shelves contain the synthetic form of the nutrient. But if you didn't know what you were looking for, were shopping strictly based on price, and/or if a retailer wasn't aware of the issue, a consumer could end up buying a supplement that he or she didn't really want.

  • Specialty Retailers are Driven by a Passion to Improve People's Health. Like other professions, many specialty retailers didn't take the plunge and open their stores based on high income potential. With the exception of a few stores that became medium- and large- chain stores, most of the specialty retailers that I know live modestly, don't drive fancy, new cars, etc. Plus, these individuals work really long, hard hours, day after day and do certain jobs that many people would flat out refuse to do. But when you talk to these people, they are passionate about what they they do, and their passion is palpable. These individuals care deeply about their customers and want their customers to be healthy, to feel their best, and be their best all the time. I don't know about you, but when I visit a specialty retail store (and my alternative health care practioner), and they ask me, "How are you doing?" I get the feeling that they genuinely care about my answer far more than the hollow "How are you's?" I hear at the big-box stores. These individuals, I'd also add, care very deeply for their employees.
  • Cost. Okay, I'll admit. I'm one of the most cost-conscious shoppers you'll ever meet. But I also believe in paying for quality when purchasing an item. So, let's talk cost. Sure, some nutritional products and supplements you can find cheaper at mass retailers, but with the lower cost of some products, what are you really saving? Again, I'll raise the issue of quality. Here are some questions to spur your thinking: Is the issue of natural vs. synthetic important? How about the issue of irradiated/non-irradiated, the use of natural methods? What about the importance of safety and testing? You can easily purchase mineral supplements at a big-box store. But with regard to MRI's mineral concentrates, it is a nearly two-year, laborious process to craft and harvest our mineral concentrates. If you tour NorthShore, you will not find an industrialized operation mass producing  mineral concentrates. Our products, our mineral concentrates are shaped by the seasons and, as such, take up to two years to slowly concentrate. We do not use any artificial ingredients or processes to "speed up" the concentration process, and with our tablet formulas, we buy only natural forms of vitamins, herbs that have been sterilized using non-irradiated, non- ethylene oxide- treated methods (steam, etc.). With regard to other nutrients such as chlorella, we look to source from the highest-quality, environmentally-pure sources from our vendors. Then, there is the extensive safety, purity, and potency testing that we conduct on the mineral concentrates--both at our in-house lab and outside, third-party labs throughout the concentration and harvesting process. Because of these factors (and the costs associated with these factors), I sincerely doubt that there will be demand from mass-market retailers for our products, and that's just fine with me and the Anderson family. But we do hope that customers know that going the extra mile in producing our mineral concentrates and searching for the best quality and forms of nutrients doesn't come cheap.
  • Buying with Peace of Mind. Issues such as organic, sustainability, fair-trade, local, as well as social and community giving weigh heavily on all of our minds. In addition to purchasing quality products that contain premium ingredients from specialty retailers, I feel that I can trust my specialty retailers to provide products and ingredients that have been ethically sourced and harvested, treated ethically and humanely with respect for nature, humankind, the environment, etc. I'm a consumer, but I also work with a family and business that truly wants to make a deep and lasting difference in the world, strengthening people's health, enriching communities, etc. In my own shopping, I seek out products that support my values. I feel good purchashing these products. I know these products and goods may cost more, but I know that I am helping to contribute to some good in the world, and, in turn, I feel good about that. The second reason I can buy with peace of mind from specialty retailers is that often, specialty retailers aren't big conglomerates. These specialized, local retailers are part of the supply chain that connects us all--source to retailer to consumer and vice-versa. I feel more "connected" when I am supporting my specialty retailer--that I matter to them, and they matter to me, and I'm not just a nameless face and shopper that is going to increase their earnings 0.08 cents next quarter.
     
  • Support the Cycle with Conscientious Suppliers. Buying local is also a rising trend. Just as many specialized retailers are often local business; many times, they, too, are family businesses. I want to take a moment to strongly urge consumers and specialty retailers to likewise support the conscientious suppliers and manufacturers in the industry. Please keep in mind the companies in the industry who are pioneering (and not piggybacking on or, worse, infiltrating) innovative products and applications, who are committed to the cause of empowering all with good health, who use natural and quality ingredients, who stand behind the quality of their products, and, finally, who view and value retailers and consumers as partners in good health and strong, essential links in the chain. Consider us as your co-partners in good health and in your buying decisions. The health food- and supplements- industry was started by passionate individuals dedicated to the cause of health and empowering consumers to take charge of their health and well being by consuming natural healthy foods and using natural minerals, vitamins, and herbs to support health and well being. Many of the early health food suppliers and manufacturers were family businesses. Today, the number of these businesses have dwindled. Similarly, the number of wonderful, small, specialty retail stores has shrunk as well, which saddens me a great deal. The loss of some truly great retailers is still felt by many today. MRI is a family business now entering its third generation. I am teaching my children that in addition to pursuing a college AND a post-graduate degree, they will also need to dedicate and apply themselves intensely to the study of our business and the health and wellness industry with the goal of 1) furthering the Anderson family's and MRI's mission of improving global well being through mineral nutrition; and 2) improving upon and innovating the family business that will allow our family to continue producing the finest, all-natural mineral concentrates from Utah's Great Salt Lake. 
These are just a few of the immediate reasons that come to mind. MRI's products are sold internationally through exclusive distributors and in the U.S. through health care practitioners and many specialty retailers. These individuals are our partners in good health. I encourage all of us, as consumers, retailers, suppliers, to please support each other in improving the health and well being of the world and creating a healthy, beneficial, and sustainable supply chain. 
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MRI is a leading ingredient supplier and manufacturer of quality liquid and tablet nutritional supplements using minerals and trace minerals from Utah's Great Salt Lake.

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