Back To Basics

Natural-Born Sellers

As consumer interest in the field grows, so does the number of products and product categories. These days, health-food stores, grocery stores, beauty supply shops and other retail locations line their shelves with natural hair-care, skin-care, mouth-care, aromatherapy, sun-care and body-care products. And there seems to be no end in sight to the growth in popularity of these products.

The proliferation of products also means there's a plethora of ways entrepreneurs can enter this field: They can manufacture a product, distribute other manufacturers' products, open a retail location, sell wares at local fairs, launch a Web site, publish newsletters or books on the topic, or even provide services such as facials and makeovers using natural products.

Making your mark won't be a cinch, however. The industry's popularity has increased competition among the big guys and entrepreneurs alike. "I had no idea how much competition was out there when I first started," says Weiss. "In my town alone, there are about four other soap makers."

Tavares, too, is finding that standing out in this field is no easy task. "The competition is huge," he says. "It's really a struggle. To make it in this business, you have to know what you're doing and help educate customers about the various products. You have to be on top of what's going on in the industry."

And the industry is changing rapidly because of new discoveries about herbs, vitamins and other supplements and their benefits. To keep one step ahead of the competition, entrepreneurs have to react quickly when new discoveries are announced. The fast-changing nature of the industry actually bodes well for flexible small businesses because they can shift gears much more quickly than corporate enterprises.

What's another advantage small businesses have over their deep-pocketed competitors? Strausfogel notes that in keeping with the image of their homegrown products, many marketers can get away with using less elaborate packaging, thus keeping costs in check.

Where the big guys take the lead is when it comes to jockeying for shelf space in the nation's grocery and retail store chains. Unfortunately, in this arena, big bucks almost always win out over small-budget-but-good-for-you goods.

That's why so many natural-born sellers are touting their wares through other avenues: direct mail, cyberspace and vitamin stores. And though they may be nontraditional avenues, they're working. In addition to boosting sales, they're helping natural products shed their "alternative" status and join the mainstream. And that means when entrepreneurs hear the word "natural," they may no longer envision barefoot hippies??? but they'll still see green.

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This article was originally published in the April 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Back To Basics.

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