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Tullivers independent Health Food Store in York
By bira

The secret to running a long-established health food store

After working for 15 years at Tullivers health food shop in York, Alan Malcolm had no hesitation in buying the business when the founders retired in 2017. With his wife Tracey, also a Tullivers veteran, his sister Claire and brother-in-law John all on board, the city centre shop really is a true family business. Tracey tells their story.

Why take over Tullivers?

Alan and I had been talking about doing something for ourselves for a while, so when Helen Spath and David Weston, who had founded the business in 1983, decided to retire, we were delighted that they offered it to the staff first. We officially took over on 1 April 2017. Claire and John are based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, from where John does a lot of the admin and our social media. Claire is chief executive at New Writing North in Newcastle, but as one of our directors, she is always on hand with help and advice. Alan is in the shop most of the time and I am in the office part-time grappling with the paperwork. We have one full-timer and up to seven part-timers.

What changes have you made in the past two years?

It’s been mainly about improving the layout of the shop to make it more logical and improve the customer flow. We have added some new shelves and repainted outside and parts of the interior, where we trade from the ground floor. We have added some new signage and storage jars. We still specialise in what Tullivers is known for – wholefoods and herbs, loose seeds, nuts and fruit, vegetarian and vegan products, supplements, organic cosmetics, environmentally-friendly household cleaners and so on. We keep an eye on new trends, but we avoid jumping on every bandwagon. We must be convinced it’s right for us and our customers.

It’s hard to miss your bright shopfront…

Tullivers – which is named after the main characters in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss – was started in a small unit but was relocated to Colliergate in 2000. The front has been red for as long as I’ve known the shop. It’s a busy area for retailers and we want to stand out. Alan spends a lot of time on the window displays, which are our best form of promotion.

Who are the customers?

We do well from York’s many visitors, who account for about half of our sales. Our local customers are of all ages and range from people who live within the city walls to people in the greater catchment area of York, which goes out as far as Scarborough, about 90 minutes’ drive away on the coast. They are of all ages but we have noticed more young people coming in as there is a much greater interest in vegan foods these days.

Why do they shop with you?

They like shopping with an independent business. They can trust us. Tullivers’ reputation for great customer service has been built up over 35 years and we have maintained it. They get expert advice and they know that if we stock something, it must be good. And if we don’t stock it, we will try to get it for them.

How do you view the competition from supermarkets and the like?

It’s a mixed bag of reactions. It’s good that our sorts of products are more widely available to people, but there is a level of undercutting going on. We have spoken to suppliers whose products are cheaper in supermarkets. Also they cannot offer the level of product knowledge we can and we’ve seen them drop lines that don’t sell in sufficient quantities. But those are the sort of specialty lines that we always have in. And there’s no doubt there’s a bit of “green washing” going on with some of the things you hear from major retailers.

How do you promote Tulliers?

It’s mainly word of mouth. We do some activity on Facebook and a bit of Twitter, but social media takes up so much time. We like our website as its sums up nicely what we are about. We do discuss about whether we ought to be selling online, but for now the shop is our priority.

Where can we find your health store?

1-2 Colliergate, York YO1 8BP
Bira member since 2017

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