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For a store filled with vitamins, minerals, supplements, herbs, beauty products and sports nutrition — a cascade of items and information — shopping The Vitamin Shoppe can be daunting, particularly for first-time visitors.

But that’s changing, with the introduction of a store prototype at the City Place outdoor shopping and condominium complex on the Hudson River in Edgewater, N.J.

“The goal is to demystify the category, take the confusion out of the experience and make The Vitamin Shoppe easy to navigate and shop,” Sharon M. Leite, chief executive officer of The Vitamin Shoppe, told WWD.

The prototype, quietly up and running for the past three weeks, brings innovations in design, presentation, technology and services. Based on early positive selling results, the prototype should help lift the company’s performance as new stores under the format are rolled out and existing units adopt elements of the redesign. Five additional stores will open in the new format by January in Turkey Creek and Cookeville, Tenn.; Sarasota, Fla., and North Brunswick and South Plainfield, N.J.

In addition, the real estate strategy has shifted to a focus on high-traffic areas like power centers, from more isolated “stand-alone pad sites on streets,” historically chosen by the 42-year-old business, Leite said. Unlike most national specialty chains, The Vitamin Shoppe does not operate in malls.

Also on the agenda is increasing the penetration of private brands to further differentiate the retailer from competitors and generate higher margins. The private brands — under The Vitamin Shoppe, BodyTech, BodyTech Elite, True Athlete and ProBioCare labels — have seen a 300 to 500 basis point lift in percent of total overall sales within the new Edgewater store. Private brands represent over 20 percent of the business, though Leite wants the percentage to grow “as high as we can.” The chain carries products from about 700 national brands.

For Leite, who has been running The Vitamin Shoppe for 14 months after stints as president of Godiva Chocolatier in the Americas and earlier president of Sally Beauty, the mission is to elevate the business, attract new customers and reimagine and simplify the shopping experience. That’s no small task, considering the average Vitamin Shoppe store carries 6,100 stockkeeping units, with an additional 7,200 available online, and they’re not really of the grab-and-go variety. Whether it’s a homeopathic remedy; a nutrition item for before, during or after a workout, or CBD for muscle aches, the products require scrutiny. Consumers need to know the ingredients, health benefits and recommended dosages.

Moreover, results at the Secaucus, N.J.-based, publicly traded retailer, operating more than 750 stores under The Vitamin Shoppe and Super Supplements banners and a web site, have been anemic. Last year, the company posted $1.1 billion in sales, a net loss of $3.75 million and income of $13.5 million from continuing operations. In the second quarter ended June 29, the company reported $270.9 million in sales, a net loss of $3.6 million and the same loss from continuing operations.

The Vitamin Shoppe’s transformation comes just as the retailer is close to being sold to The Franchise Group, parent company of Liberty Tax Service and Buddy’s Home Furnishings. It’s a $208 million cash deal expected to be completed later this quarter and certain to impact the strategy, possibly accelerating it.

“This transaction will help The Vitamin Shoppe heighten its focus on enhancing our omnichannel experience and customer-first mindset with greater flexibility and resources, including initiatives like our new innovation store format launching in Edgewater,” Leite said. “We believe that Franchise Group sees the many strengths of our business and its potential for growth and building long-term value.”

Last Monday, Leite greeted a visitor at the 3,185-square-foot Edgewater store prototype. She first pointed out the compact character of the store. It’s about 400 square feet smaller than before its redesign, though there’s still a lot going on in the relatively modest space. “Stores going forward will be tighter boxes, from 2,500 to 3,000 square feet,” to simplify the shopping and add productivity, the ceo observed.

She also pointed out the new wayfaring system. Signs designating different product sections, like multivitamins, natural beauty, weight management or cold drinks, are obvious. There are also “educational guides” placed by products to spotlight their benefits. No need to squint reading the fine print on the packaging.

The Vitamin Shoppe prototype in Edgewater, N.J. 

CBD products — a best-selling area — are showcased up front along with natural beauty and aromatherapy products. The Vitamin Shoppe was the first national retailer to sell ingestible CBD for pain and stress management and considers itself “a one-stop destination” for CBD hemp extract. The CBD distribution will reach 515 stores by next month (from the current 390) with an offering of 20 brands across capsules, softgels, liquids, sprays, powders, drinks, topicals and beauty items. “Our customers have told us loud and clear they want CBD in an assortment of forms,” Leite said.

New technologies at the prototype include:

• A fast, non-invasive body analysis biometric station, the InBody 270 kiosk. It measures body fat, skeletal mass and water weight to help devise diet, exercise, vitamin and weight management plans, if needed. Users of this complimentary service are encouraged to access a free, virtual nutritionist consultation through The Vitamin Shoppe’s Healthy Awards program.

• A digital product guide. When you place a product on it, information pops up on an LCD flat screen, like nutrition facts, usage guides, promotions, reviews and product recommendations. Enlarged labels are also shown.

• An upgraded cash wrap with a 100-inch LED video screen displaying brand content.

The Vitamin Shoppe is also deploying traffic counting and advanced heat mapping technology from RetailNext to understand how the in-store associates, called “health enthusiasts,” function and interact with customers, and to gauge the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and promotions.

The health enthusiasts are equipped with “V Books,” which are iPads that store product info and profiles of customer and their purchases. What is new is the mobile selling application from Aptos One Store Commerce, which is being added to the Vbooks — allowing store associates to engage with shoppers, ring up transactions and answer questions throughout the store floor without leaving the customer’s side.

With the “Only Me” online subscription health service, an individual’s health and daily routines are assessed via an algorithm to devise a personal daily regimen of vitamins and supplements recommended by medical experts for a variety of reasons. Customers could be looking to boost their energy level, improve their sleep patterns or their digestion, among other needs. Subscribers get monthly deliveries, starting at $25 a month.

The Vitamin Shoppe prototype is “digitally powered to engage deeper with customers,” said Leite, who does add collagen peptides to her coffee, among the bestsellers chainwide.

Designed by Dayton, Ohio-based ChangeUp Inc., the prototype has a warm color palette, wood floors, brass signage and leather trim details. “There’s an elevated aesthetic of a modern apothecary imbued with leading-edge technology and services,” Leite said.

“We’re learning from our Edgewater prototype,” she added. “The average ticket and UPT [units per transaction] are higher than the average for our existing stores.…The Vitamin Shoppe has always talked about being a specialty retailer but we never acted like one,” Leite said. Until now.

CBD Central at The Vitamin Shoppe prototype. 

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