CV #1 Cambridge Naturals: Wellness In Everything They Do
COMPANY AT A GLANCE: CAMBRIDGE NATURALS
Founded: 1974 by Michael Kanter and Elizabeth Stagl. The store sells bulk herbs, supplements, body care, grocery, and lifestyle products. Located in Cambridge, MA. Opening a second store in the Boston Landing in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston in July!
Ownership: Currently there are four family owners: Michael and Elizabeth (original founders) and second generation owners: Emily Kanter (their daughter) and Caleb Dean (Emily’s husband).
Mission: To provide the best choices in nutritional supplements for health and wellness, clean body care products and organic foods.
Values: Empathy, Thoughtfulness, Community (local and global), Honesty, Vitality, and Work Hard, Have Fun, & Encourage LaughterLevity (Work hard, have fun, encourage laughter)
Employees: 28 Employees | Revenue: ~5 Million (estimated 2018) 4.4 in 2017
Community: Strive to partner with businesses owned by woman and under-served individuals, serve as a pick up/drop off center for CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture Farms)
LET THE VISIT BEGIN!
I spent much of the afternoon with Co- Owner, Caleb Dean. The company ownership is shared by husband and wife team: Michael Kanter and Elizabeth Stagl (original founders) and husband and wife team: Emily Kanter (their daughter) and Caleb Dean.
They’re in the midst of a 4 year transition and while they’re still defining their various roles, the short breakdown is that Emily and Caleb run the day to day, while Michael serves as an advisor and Elizabeth manages the finances. Coincidentally, Michael popped into the store today and gave me a mini history lesson:
A SHORT (AND PROGRESSIVE) HISTORY LESSON OF THE STORE
Elizabeth Stagl and Michael Kanter founded the store in 1974 as 22 year-olds. They founded the store in response to learning that the same pesticides used in the Vietnam War, were being used in farming -- propelled to do something about this, they opened an organic natural products store.
In addition to selling healthy and organic products, they also voiced their political opinions by selling printed t-shirts with very progressive slogans like: “Behind Every Great Woman is Herself” and “Oh, I see, the difference between your paycheck and my paycheck” (pictured: a boy and a girl peering down their trousers). While many people were in favor of their political views and products (they sold thousands of shirts over the years), some of course, were not. In fact, their store windows were once smashed in when the owners refused to take down a picture of Malcomb X hanging in the front of the store.
While the company itself is not political in the same ways that it used to be, this context is important because it certainly remains an integral part of the store’s DNA and has contributed to an even broader definition of what “wellness” means to Cambridge Naturals. (More on this later).
Anyways, Elizabeth and Michael ran the store for almost 40 years, and grew the company to a $3M operation with ~15 employees. Roughly four years ago, they invited Emily and Caleb in as owners as they were beginning to consider transitioning out of the day to day business.
Fast forward to today, the store is projected to reach almost 5 million in revenue with ~30 employees. They are also opening a second store in the Boston Landing in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston in July!
While Caleb and I talked about a lot of interesting things today, these were the biggest takeaways:
1) WELLNESS EXTENDS BEYOND THEIR PRODUCTS
Sure, Cambridge Naturals sells wellness products – but wellness extends beyond their products into every customer interaction. In fact, customers actually come to Cambridge Naturals seeking wellness advice.
According to Caleb, one of the main reasons for this is that many of Cambridge Natural’s customers are fed up with Western medicine and are looking for alternative health solutions. For example, a customer may come in and share with a Cambridge Naturals employee that they’re tired of taking antidepressants and are interested in products with natural remedies instead.
Think about that type of responsibility and trust – customers are actually coming to Cambridge Natural’s Employees asking them for wellness advice, instead of going to their doctors!
Cambridge Naturals takes this VERY seriously and has to walk a very fine line. This is in itself very interesting because they are not certified to prescribe anything and of course, a business has the incentive to want to sell more products…
However, Cambridge Naturals takes a totally different approach: instead of pushing their products on folks, they ask questions, educate, and let the customer decide for themselves. For example, when a customer asks an employee if they should take fish oil. An employee would respond – well how much fish do you eat? The company sees itself as supplemental versus a solution and is very open about this.
This is why the typical customer interaction is 20-45 minutes long! And the silver lining is that their educational versus salesy approach is actually great for business – they have experienced 20% growth this year (this could also be related to the political scene, more on this in a moment). In response to the greater role they are playing in customer wellness education, Cambridge Naturals is going to begin all sorts of educational workshops for customers around health and wellness.
2) YOU CAN’T UNCOUPLE POLITICS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE FROM WELLNESS – CREATING PSYCHOLOGICAL WELLNESS AND SAFE SPACES
Caleb shared with me that since Trump has been elected as president, they have seen an increase in customers seeking solutions for stress relief and sleep support. In fact, Caleb has seen a direct correlation between when the president does something alarming, to when people come in and seek solutions for these specific issues.
Sure, while that’s great for business – many of the president's actions are very much against their values as a store, especially when it comes to marginalizing groups of people.
While the store has not officially endorsed or denounced a political candidate before, they did feel a strong urge to act when Trump was elected. The day after he was elected, Cambridge Naturals shared their company values with the rest of the world, letting folks know that this is what they stand for and that ALL are welcome in their store. Customers responded very positively, some even admitting that Cambridge Naturals was one of the only places they wanted to be at that moment.
3) EMPLOYEE WELLNESS COMES FIRST
While I’ve talked a lot about customer and community wellness – Cambridge Naturals subscribes to Danny Meyer’s philosophy that as an organization, you should take care of your employees first, so that they can take even better care of your customers.
For this reason, Cambridge Naturals is also working hard to create a psychologically safe place for their employees. One way in which they’re working on this is implementing diversity education and training. This was driven by the fact that some of women employees at Cambridge Naturals had unfortunately experienced sexist micro aggressions that made them very uncomfortable. For those wondering, a micro aggression is defined as an “indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.” A quick example is that one customer (an artist) had repeatedly asked several women employees if he could paint them because they're so beautiful. This is a micro aggression because it’s invasive and objectifying to women. In response to this, Cambridge Naturals educated the customer on how his comments were offensive and warned that if he were to continue to shop at the store, that he would need to stop these remarks.
In addition to working towards creating a safe space for employees – Cambridge Naturals truly cares about what’s happening in their employees personal lives. As one employee shared with me, ”They (Managers) ask about who I am as a person, what I do outside of work. They really take who we are as individuals into account and work with that.” Cambridge Naturals has built a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing when they're going through challenging personal situations. When this happens, the team pulls together to give them enough time for self-care (outside of work) and during the day on their shifts.
Another employee shared a story with me, where in her on-on-one review, her feedback from her manager was that she should take more time to “do nothing" and take mindful walks around the store. This employee was in shock – she had never had an employer ask her to do less during the day to take care of her mental and physical health before.
All and all, I think what makes Cambridge Naturals so special is that wellness is front in center in all that they do; whether it's selecting a product for the store, engaging with a customer, taking care of their employees or evolving as a business. They prioritize their purpose of wellness with every stakeholder, which creates an amazing and very, "natural" alignment.