The Health Store at Harvest, Bangor’s only independent health store, is celebrating 35 years in business and 21 years as a member of The Health Store.
But owner Seamus O’Brien is the first to admit that getting this far has not always been easy, especially with growing competition from the supermarkets and online retailers. He says: “In the late 70s the wholefood trade was considered very cranky and a bit weird. But the health store was the first point of call for hard-to-get items like flaxseed or goji berries. Now it’s more mainstream. Supermarkets stock many of the same products as we do now, and they’re getting hold of them quicker. It means people don’t come to the health store as much. Also the Internet has had a huge impact. Over the past 15 years our footfall has halved, but it’s indicative of business in the town generally.”
In 2012 O’ Brien moved to smaller premises to keep his business afloat. “The positives of moving are lower running costs and a far better position and visibility than the bigger shop. It’s more compact. You can see everything better. And the biggest positive is that we are still in business!”
O’ Brien says sales are generally strongest between November and March – the coughs and colds season. The best-sellers include seeds and nuts, flaxseed, echinacea, digestive products, fish oils and joint health products. “People make an assumption that supermarkets are cheaper and are quite surprised to discover that actually we offer better value for money.”
So, what has kept him going all these years? “I enjoy going to work. I enjoy talking to people and directing them to something that might help.” But the personalized customer care doesn’t end there – you’ll quite often find him offering customers a bit of of cooking advice on how to make a great soup or dhal. “We always aim to give real value for money,” quips O’Brien.