Retail Success Story: Saje Natural Wellness
Vancouver-based Saje Natural Wellness is the quintessential example of a retail success story.
Founded in 1992 by husband-wife team Jean-Pierre LeBlanc and Kate Ross LeBlanc, Saje Natural Wellness is celebrating more than 26 years in business, with more than 50 stores across Canada, and a recent five-year growth of 1,547%. Saje rose from no. 154 on the PROFIT 500 in 2015, to no. 74 in 2016, to no. 49 in 2017.
That’s not just successful for a family business — that’s successful for any business. So, how have they done it?
- They Started with a Clear Purpose
Saje was founded after Jean-Pierre suffered a serious car accident and was left with chronic pain. He discovered aromatherapy and found it helped manage his symptoms. He had a background in chemistry, and Kate had a background in retail, so they combined their knowledge.
At the beginning, Saje had only eight products, including two essential oils — Peppermint Halo and Stress Release — that are still top sellers today. They committed to developing products using all-natural ingredients; according to The Financial Post all products are free of parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, glycols, petrochemicals and synthetic colours, and fragrances.
Since then the business has expanded beyond essential oils to include more than 500 products, ranging from skin care products, to candles and teas, but they have kept their 100% natural focus.
- Timing is Everything
Saje started out with just one store in North Vancouver. They kept growth slow but steady in the first two decades of business. Until 2011, Saje only had nine stores nation-wide.
They set their sights on expansion and by 2014 had 14 stores — and then things really took off. The summer of 2017 saw Saje opening its 50th store and they have expanded to the U.S.
What happened? First, they re-focused their brand and customer experience (see below), but they also cashed in on a major world-wide trend: health and wellness.
As holistic health became more prominent, and people began turning towards more natural and organic products, Saje was ready and able to fill the need. They had built a strong-enough foundation that they could respond to the demand.
- In-Store Experiences
In 2011 when they decided to expand, Saje focused on several key elements to elevate their brick-and-mortar brand.
- Saje stores are often unique, inside and out, with differentiated facades and nature-inspired interiors (such as a living wall of plants). No two stores look exactly the same.
- They branded their style as “West Coast – Modern Apothecary” and extend that messaging through the look and feel of their stores and messaging.
- Stores use positive space, bright lighting, friendly staff, and music.
- They have kept their commitment to natural even in the furniture they choose, the in-store fixtures, building material, and more.
They also offer tea to shoppers (natural, of course), product testing, and demonstrations.
- Commitment to Customer
In addition to its in-store set up, Saje walks its talk. Their retail spaces are all about creating a great customer experience, including customer service.
“No matter how long it’s been since you bought your Saje blend, whether you have a receipt or not, whether your bottle is full or it’s nearly empty with the labeling scratched off, if it doesn’t work for you, you can bring it into our store and we’ll help you find something that does,” Kiara Leblanc (the daughter of Jean-Pierre and Kate) told well insiders.
“We don’t want anything from our brand to end up in that personal-care graveyard—you know, that drawer full of unused products that just didn’t work for you, or didn’t smell right.”
Beyond their generous return policy, Saje also encourages staff members to use their discretion to satisfy clients. Canadian Business reported:
“For instance, when one customer came into the West Edmonton Mall with a shattered Saje container in her purse, the salesperson gave her a brand new one, no questions asked. ‘[S]he said, ‘I got you!’ and handed me a replacement,” the happy shopper gushed on Facebook. “I seriously almost cried. I was so flustered… She turned my day right around.’”
- Diligent Recruiting
They also extend their passion to the product, talking about the benefits of essential oils and training staff to help consumers pick out the products that are right for them — empathetic selling.
“We make it our first mission to find out how people are doing when they enter our stores. Are they tired? Do they have a cold?” Kate told Canadian Business. “Then we connect them with the product that will make them feel better. It takes the focus away from us being a sales organization and turns it toward creating a better experience for that person.”
They hire store staff who are already fans of the products or who have a commitment to personal wellness (such as studying to be a nurse). There’s then a robust training program delivered via e-learning modules, regional team-led sessions, and an annual retreat (Camp Saje).
From humble beginnings, Saje is only continuing to grow. And most of that growth has happened in their bricks-and-mortar locations, proving that ecommerce isn’t the only strategy that matters.
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