How to Train Your Startup

Maria and I just got back from an awesome trip to Providence, RI where we facilitated a 2 day training for Urban Greens Food Co-op, a startup about to open. As we were wading through the muddy Customer Service waters, I started to think about all the training startups need to be successful and remain on top of the competition - as if opening a store wasn’t stressful enough. Then it occured to me that I know a lot of startups that just don’t do any training at all! They rely on the knowledge of their staff and managers. While I’m sure that method has worked for other in the past, it made me think about building better stores for the future. Just how much training do we need to provide for our startups and how do we do it? We focus on 3 key areas and fill in with related subjects. We find that 2-3 days of training and startup staff have a good overall understanding and can answer questions correctly when quizzed again by their managers :)

Customer Service

Maria and I provided 2 core Customer Service trainings, Customer Service 1 and Customer Service 2. The first training focused on what customer service is and how to give your customers the best experience you can throughout the entire store. We used this graphic to help illustrate the importance of great customer service. One thing we really tried to drive home is the 10-4 Rule. Basically, any time you are within 10 feet of a customer, you need to make eye contact and smile at them and any time you are within 4 feet of a customer, you need to say hello. If you follow this rule, theoretically, you will acknowledge every customer 100% of the time. If you want a little more detail, use this worksheet to walk you through a more in depth look at the 10-4 Rule.

The second part of our Customer Service training walks stores through the process of dealing with difficult customers. For the most part, we’ve all been on both sides of this situation; I’m sure you’ve had a few choice words with your cell phone or internet provider, right? We walked through real life examples and how to respond appropriately in those situations.


The second topic we covered was the exciting world of margins - yay! It’s crazy how often we come across grocery store staff that have no idea what a margin is or how it’s affected. The goal for us is not necessarily how to figure out margin (come on, math isn’t fun for all of us!) but how to recognize what practices and processes affect margin. We want people to walk away with the knowledge that;

  1. You don’t have to raise prices to raise margin!

  2. Even the front end plays a part in margin. Misrings, anyone?

  3. If you’re not hitting your margin, try checking inventory, labor and how many supplies your department is using before you try adjusting your overall margin.

  4. Waste! Shrink! They play a big role in your margin so make sure you have goals and you stick to them.

You can use this little cheat sheet to explain margin and how it differs from markup.


This is one area that ALL stores can use a brush up in! Trends change often enough, it’s hard to know what the standards are and how to use them. Typically, we find that;

  1. There is a system for product placement and selection!

  2. If something isn’t selling, figure out why before you just stop selling it.

  3. Where you put the shelf tag matters!! Use this graphic to help make sure you always put it in the right spot.

  4. There is a strategy to picking your product! You can use this matrix to help you know if you should carry certain products or not.

Category Management is also an area we focus on, mainly because we find that stores don’t know the difference between merchandising and category management. We tell people that;

  1. Category Management is NOT merchandising. A store has Departments such as Grocery, Produce, Dairy, Deli, etc. The product on display within those departments are grouped in sections of like product. These sections are the "categories" in Category Management.

  2. Category Management happens when a category is defined, analyzed, planned for, and acted on by industry participants in that category. It's a vertical system involving collaboration among manufacturers, marketers/analysts, distributors, and retailers.

  3. The goals are to maximize sales and profitability for each category.

You can check out our more in depth worksheet on Category Management for a deeper dive.

These are just a few of the training areas needed for startups, and let’s be honest, all stores. We find that if you can have quarterly trainings on the big umbrella topics, like customer service and margin sprinkled with some more in depth trainings like Category Management and Merchandising, you’re in pretty good shape.

8 Ways to Have a Rock Solid Brand

 Branding is tough! It’s so much more than the logo and graphics, but people don’t always see that. Your brand is how people experience your store - online, in the store, interacting with your shoppers, etc. So how do you have a rock solid brand? We think you’re well on your way if you can master these 8 areas.


Once you have worked through to identify your core values and your customers understand who you are and what you do, you can begin to build your brand. You are ready to externalize the awesome-ness that is your store’s brand.


The more excited and happier your customers are, the more time they want to spend promoting and shopping at your store. And the happier they are, the more they will naturally and purposefully project the store’s brand. That’s part of why having great core values is so critical - you need ambassadors for your store and who better than your customers who understand and believe in your values?


You need to have a fantastic visual identity, not just a logo and some Shutterstock images. Branding really is so much more than that. Look for or create images that truly represent who you are. I often see trends come up with startups - the ‘rustic’ or ‘vintage’ theme with some distressed letters and simple but funky veggies. All very cool but I promise, it won’t necessarily be as relevant in 5 years.


It’s hard to really dig in and find who your demographic is. Your market study will touch on it and your current current shoppers will probably represent a good majority of it. But knowing who they are and knowing how to reach them are very different ideas. If you want to be hip and trendy in a suburban, middle class neighborhood you may not be as successful as you’d like. Before you commit to your brand identity, take time to really find out who these people are and what is the most effective way to reach them.


The natural foods industry is not a culture known for taking risks. We like to save for the future, we worry about every single customer and we don’t want to offend anyone. But taking risks and being bold is sometimes the best strategy for making an impact and being the leader in your community. Just remember; you do NOT have to be exclusive, please everyone nor do you have to compromise your core values because you’re worried about what some people will think. Another reason why knowing and living those values is so important!


As a marketing expert, I’m constantly analyzing store’s brands and marketing strategies. And one thing that I consistently see is inconsistency - either in signage, images, theme or style. It’s tough with owners running the website, social media platforms and printing flyers. But you need to have standards and brand guidelines for them to follow if you want current and potential customers to recognize you in the sea of current and future competition. Don’t wait until Whole Foods moves in to be the first choice for groceries - be consistent now and be consistent in the future.


People, by nature, latch on to the latest and greatest trends. Kombucha, anyone? By knowing what is trendy and what is steadfast will not only help your business now but it will prove to your membership that you know your stuff! So please, while I know gluten free kale chips with siracha and sea salt SEEMS like a good idea, do your research and taste them before you advertise the 2 for 1 sale.


You want to be set apart from the competition, that’s the unspoken truth. But you don’t have to have a single, game changing idea to do that. Don’t gravitate to an idea just because it’s new and cutting edge. You will probably just alienate your customers and as a result find yourself in the ‘unreliable’ category when your competition gets the one up. You can identify yourself as the best choice without giving your brand ‘edge’.


Logos, images, font and colors can change over time - but your identity is more or less consistent. If you can identify who your store is then you can focus on that. Once you can really laser focus on your brand, come next year you’ll be a rock star! People will be used to your message and your consistent identity will shone through as they load their shopping carts with local, organic products.

Tools of the Trade

“Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.”

Steve Jobs

While much of what we do involves “tools” in the narrow definition.  However if we take a broader view it’s so much more and personifies many intangibles that we might not consider to be tools in the narrow definition. In an era where employees are hard to come by due to a shrinking labor pool it is important to recognize the investment in your staff as simply a part of your toolbox!



Customer service

Customer service is a soft skill that is hard to evaluate in an interview, but can return huge dividends when it comes to positive interactions with your customers.  Every time a staff member interacts with a customer it’s called a “Moment of Truth” it can be the single interaction that develops a lifelong relationship.

Professional Development

Providing training and professional development not only increases productivity of a staff member it also demonstrates that your store is committed to them and you are willing to invest in them.  It is a morale booster and it builds loyalty. 


Employees tend to remain with a company until some force causes them to leave…..Don’t be that force!

Be willing to show compassion for those you work with.  Consider that most of us work full time which constitutes about a third of entire work week, which means we are spending a fair amount of time with our colleagues.  No one is a robot we all have good and bad days and it’s an important intangible to have support on those bad days from your colleagues.

Coaching and constructive criticism

A mentor once told me “The more you try and control the less control you have” Over time I’ve come to realize coaching and constructive criticism are very important tools for success.  Allowing staff members to make decisions even potentially wrong ones has value. Providing regular coaching is critical in the success of any business.

Effective Evaluations

Having a shared vision is an elementary business standard, and providing feedback on how everyone is proceeding with that shared vision should also be a standard.  Setting goals and celebrating when the goals are achieved should also be a standard as well as being accountable for underachieving.  All part of an effective tool for growth.

In closing,

Invest in your staff, give them tools to be successful both personally and professionally.  Guide and coach them to be better people and good community members. Seek outside assistance when necessary to achieve these goals. Be what you expect from your colleagues.

15% off Post-it Notes

Effective Shopper Surveys

By Nicole Klimek

Getting your customer’s opinions and feedback is critical, we all know that. But when the comment card box is at it’s capacity or your cashiers spend more time telling you what customers said than how many rings per minute they did. . it may be time to let shoppers speak their mind in a more streamlined way.

Enter the shopper survey! Whether you’ve done one or haven’t gotten around to it, here are some useful tips to keep in mind.

  1. IT HAS TO BE EASY. People don’t want to spend more time than they have to on surveys - yet they want real results. So making it easy for them to speak their mind and feel heard while getting filtered information you can use needs to be simple, easy and rewarding. When we worked with LifeSource Natural Foods in Salem, OR we implemented a shopper survey that could be filled out online, in store, with a staff person or alone. Then everyone who took the survey and left their email address received a $10 coupon. How sweet, right?! LifeSource averaged about 25 responses a day during the 2 week campaign. That’s a lot of useful information!

  2. KEEP THE CONTENT SIMPLE. You don’t want to overload people and you want to be engaging. So please don’t give people a survey that is complicated to fill out, requires much writing or too much critical thinking. It sounds like you’re only asking blanket questions and to be honest, you are. It’s your job to do the critical thinking, not theirs. The best question that BriarPatch Food Co-op in Grass Valley, CA asks their customers? According to their Assistant Operations and Customer Service Manager, Michael McCary, it’s “what is your overall shopping experience?” Pretty simple!

  3. GET THE DATA! Always remember to get the basics like; age range, demographics, which gender, if any, the shopper identifies with, annual income and if they have kids in the home. These are valuable data points and they can be measured and compared against each and every survey.

  4. BE VISUAL WHERE IT MAKES SENSE. If you can break up the monotony of all the text, add some images. If you’re doing a survey to gain insights on your re-brand, show images of your current logo and a mock up of a logo look and feel you’re going for. If you’re planning an expansion, show images of your fixture plan. People want to react to to something visual, give it to them.

(want an example to give you a starting point? Ask and you shall receive!)

Hopefully you can gather some valuable data to use during your survey and if you’re still wondering what other kinds of effective, innovative survey methods are out there, shoot us an email at info@sevenrootsgroup.com and we can talk!

Lets talk Equipment

by PJ Hoffman

Equipment is tough! Where to buy it, how to buy it, how to order it. . . yikes! We want to walk through the different kinds of procurement models so you have a better grip on the equipment beast.

What is Equipment Procurement?


Equipment procurement is the process of:

·       Developing specifications for the equipment in your store development project

·       Identifying viable sources of the equipment

·       Soliciting quotes

·       Evaluating quotes and selecting vendors

·       Creating an equipment ordering/receiving schedule

·       Communicating with the Design/Construction team about the specs of the equipment to be purchased and coordinating with them when the items should arrive

·       Sending in purchase orders with dates of when items are needed

·       Receiving and tracking acknowledgments and other notifications from vendors

·       Receiving the equipment and dealing with missing or wrong items and damage


What are the Store’s costs in Equipment Procurement?

·       Cost of the equipment

·       Staff time it takes to do the procurement

·       Mistakes or misjudgments in equipment specifications, which can cost during installation or in the life time of the units


Three Procurement Models

Before you start the procurement process for your project, think carefully about how you’ll approach it.  And decide on your process before you begin. 

There are three basic models for equipment procurement:     


o   The store researches manufacturers/sources/models and solicits a large number of quotes.

o   Orders are placed directly with the manufacturer or a wide variety of dealers/resellers.  The equipment may include used/reconditioned equipment.

o   PROS:  If the store has the knowledge and experience with equipment procurement, this can result in the lowest purchase price.

o   CONS:  Administrative costs and mistakes can easily overcome any price advantage.



o   The store identifies viable store equipment dealers, usually local, who represent certain classes of equipment, such as refrigeration or foodservice equipment.

o   The dealers work with the store on the specifications and quote the equipment.

o   PROS:  Local, often resulting in good in-person attention and follow up to issues.

o   CONS:  Prices typically higher.  Significant administrative costs, but not nearly the amount in the Hands On model.  Dealers may not present the variety of options.



o   The store works with a procurement service for most of its equipment.  Typically a grocery wholesaler offers this type of “equipment bill-through” program.  This includes UNFI for the natural foods industry.

o   The procurement service, in consultation with store, creates the equipment specifications and approaches vendors for pricing.  Presents options to store for decision-making.  Monitors the progress of the order and assists with problem-solving.

o   PROS:  Store’s administrative costs are very low and the process less stressful.  Pricing is typically competitive if not advantageous.

o   CONS:  It is a remote service, although the procurement company may visit to go over the equipment options and details.

At seven roots, we work with Trimark as much as possible - our national buying program with them saves stores time and money!

Hopefully this helps you and if you need more information, try this document!

6 things you (probably) didn't know about your marketing plan

by Nicole Klimek

There are so many clients I work with that either don’t have a useable marketing plan. . or plain just don’t have one! A lot of people don’t understand that a marketing plan isn’t just some stagnant document that you have to create once a year to supplement your business plan. One of the first things I tell clients is that your marketing plan is a living, breathing document that should be reviewed monthly and yes. . . even adjusted a little! Here are a few more tidbits that some people may find helpful.

  1. It takes more than a few hours to write. It shouldn’t take weeks but honestly, it could. I find that the more a client is prepared and armed with background support, data and some goals, the more likely they are to write a successful plan in 1-3 days. If it takes more than 3-4 weeks, you’re likely off target and may need read further.

  2. Shopper surveys are a catalyst. Ok, yes. You probably knew that already but I don’t think people use them to their fullest potential! You can gather so much useful information through surveys and all of it can help direct your marketing plan. One thing I find that people have a hard time grasping is the type of questions they should ask and how to administer the survey. Look for our future blog about how to create an effective shopper survey, but for now you can take a look at this shopper survey to get some general ideas on simple, effective questions.

  3. Set realistic goals. Again, you already know this. But most plans I review aren’t effective because they aren’t realistic. You have to know your store, your demographics and your overall growth strategy before you can write attainable goals in your marketing plan. Be specific! Create metrics to measure the success rate of your action plan.

  4. You can change the plan! Seriously! While a lot of the content shouldn’t change, there are some things that really should! If you get a new store in town, the market hits a recession or some other local trend starts up, you need to adjust your current plan to address the updates. If your goals are no longer the top priority for some reason, take action! Staying on top of the market trends is one of the most important actions you can take to be effective.

  5. Plan the attack. Your action plan is the heart if this whole thing, so don’t skip it, go to fast or lose sight of your overall goal. You need to create a strategy for each of your goals. Learning about your market through multiple channels is one of the most critical pieces. You have so many tools to use and so many insights to analyze. Radio, tv, flyers, online, social media, in store, newspaper, billboards, chamber of commerce, bus ads, speaking engagements, sponsorships, and so many more. Knowing what to focus on depends on your demographics. And you know your market, right?

6. There is a formula! I like to outline 3 things, at least, when I’m writing a marketing plan;

  1. Strategy (ex. position YOUR STORE to be the low price leader in natural foods).

  2. Key Message (ex. YOUR STORE has great prices on brand name products and are especially competitive on the staple items).

  3. Tactics (ex. Be diligent and accurate on price shopping your competitors. Have a staples or basic line that is visible and part of your staff’s lingo. Merchandise to the best of your ability! Offer a monthly coupon that is meant to offset any prices you can’t beat. Personal shoppers to teach people how to shop low cost).

We’ll have more blog posts on this topic but hopefully you’ve learned a few new tidbits that can help you start planning with some more depth. If you have any suggestions, tips or advice of your own - please share! Ask questions!