In-Practice Retail

 In Practice Building

Learning from History
James Maskell

Back in the late ‘70s, Americans started flocking to gyms. Working out was cool, and Americans were intoxicated by the idea of bettering themselves, their physiques, and their health. Thousands of independent gyms opened during that time—a new industry’s time had come.

Just a decade earlier, in the ‘60s, the health food revolution slowly began to chug along. Small, local stores such as GNC started to franchise beyond their initial reach (in this case Pittsburgh), and people’s behavior started to change, as they became aware that they could improve their health outcomes through conscious living choices. The gyms were just another iteration of that inclination.

The early ‘80s brought a recession in America, and as soon as the fledgling industry was finding its feet, the cash was yanked from it, and many gyms went bust. Through the ‘80s and the ‘90s, entrepreneurs and fitness gurus opened many more gyms, yet more failed as they never really grasped a successful business model. Memberships were seen as the only way to build income, and gyms lived and died by their ability to bring in new members and keep the ones they had.

If we look at the gym landscape today, just 30 years later, clearly chains are the dominant players. By and large, small gyms have fallen by the wayside, as the franchises backed by capital and marketing knowhow have proliferated across the country.

So the question is this? Where did gyms go wrong? How could independent gym owners have created better business models for themselves to better serve their local communities? The answer is retail, and if you go into any modern franchise gym, it is only too glaringly obvious.

Gyms have hundreds of people coming through their doors every day, and the gym-goer has needs that go beyond memberships. Whether it be protein powders, sports drinks, or workout gear, gyms had a captive audience for retail products but for whatever reason decided to be noncommissioned sales reps for their local GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, health food store, or worse still, Wal-Mart.

In 2011, we see a similar situation in the naturopathic physician’s world. The understanding of using natural treatment products and supplements to influence health outcomes is now both a science and an art. Naturopathic physicians are joining other allied holistic health professionals in promoting exceptional health outcomes, especially for those with the type of chronic issues Western medicine flounders with.

So, will NDs learn from history? Will they rely on appointments to grow their practice? Professional-grade supplements are a good start, but is there further we can go in developing sustainable best practices? My hope is that before we, as an industry, tap the middle of the patient bell curve, we get this right. If we don’t, someone else will, and the ND of the future will be like the average personal trainer of today, a mid-level cog in a big machine.

Best Practices for In-Practice Retail:


  • Only Use Professional Grade Supplements – Keep the patients coming back into your office to purchase them, and keep them educated on the difference between the products you carry and the mass market. Just one look at the ingredients of Centrum should do it, did you know it contains Aspartame?
  • Create An Attractive Retail Display – Your reception area is probably the best place for this. (I did not call it a waiting room). Try and find a space that fits the patient flow and is at the right height for easy display. Merchandising is key here, and working with product lines that understand this will save you a lot of time, as they provide easy tools to make it attractive and appealing.
  • Keep the Display Relevant – Seasonal displays can be the most effective as they are relevant to the person coming in the door. For example, the patient might not get seasonal allergies, but their family members might, and so we can make it easy for them to fulfill those needs. Cold and flu season, back to school, and summer hydration can also provide a great basis for relevant displays.
  • Make it Interactive –By combining the retail with education, sampling or both, you provide an atmosphere that is conducive to sales. With iPads, animation, and great content, not only can the limits be pushed way out, but the barriers to entry can fall away too.
  • Train your Staff – Engaging patients when they are in your clinic and finding out what their needs are is crucial, and your front desk team should be well versed in this. For best ways to engage, the principles from a previous column on identifying needs and providing solutions should be a good starting point.

There is no better time to start doing this than right now. Holiday gift season is followed by cold and flu season, then allergy season is right around the corner. Done right, your retail display will be an income producing asset from the moment you set it up!

James Maskell is CEO of Revive NYC, a Brooklyn-based digital media, practice development, and branding company that helps doctors and holistic practitioners bring their message to life. To connect with Revive, please visit our website at

Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search