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Excelling in e-commerce

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It may be marking its 50th anniversary this year, but the Haelan Centre is moving with the times and thriving in the world of e-commerce, as well as with its bricks and mortar stores. Still family run, co-owner, Dave Krahn, explains how the two parts of the business co-exist.

Having been in existence for some 50 years, the Haelan Centre has built a strong reputation in the London boroughs it has served for five decades. But to the credit of the directors running the business, it does not simply trade off its history and heritage.

Instead, the team have tried to take the negatives from the Covid-19 pandemic and turn them into opportunities for the business – and the results demonstrate just what an independent health food store can achieve, even against the might of the multiples and online giants, such as Amazon.

Dave Krahn is one of the passionate owners and acts as Managing Director, alongside his brother, John, who is also an owner. Dave explained that early in the pandemic, they decided to revive their e-commerce site, which they hadn’t done much with in the last few years. Quickly, www.organictoyourdoor.co.uk was live and has proved a huge success, both with the local community but also nationwide.

He explained: “Currently, online is absolutely vital – there are so many people that have needed the extra support during lockdown. Since our relaunch in December last year, the popularity of our online store has been going from strength to strength.

“The website has exceeded our expectations. We deliver to the local area, within a three-five mile radius, and if ordered by 2pm, they get the same day, and that’s anything we stock, from chilled and frozen to supplements. We also deliver nationwide through a courier and that is next day delivery.”

But why was the decision taken to invest in online? “We had two options; we could do the website, or just have to deal with restrictions on numbers in store. We wanted to turn a negative into a positive and we have been really pleased with how well it’s gone.”

The Haelan history

The Haelen Centre opened in 1972 and October this year marks its 50th anniversary. The first store can be found in Crouch End, while the second shop opened in nearby Park Road in 2012. Not only does it have a shop offering, but also a herbal dispensary, as well as a clinic at the original store.

Dave explained that even today, it remains a family business. “Nino Booth founded the shop with a partner, Peter Woodhead. Peter left the business in 1981 and Nino continued as sole owner until his death in 2001. Nino’s daughter, Amabel, inherited the business then and brought in John Krahn to help her run it as she was only 18 at the time,” Dave explained. “John worked non-stop, seven days per week for nearly three years to keep the Haelan Centre running.”

In 2004, Dave joined his brother on the ownership team, with his business and accounting knowhow saving the Haelan Centre from potentially closing for good. The brothers have been running it since 2004, and Amabel stepped down in 2017.

But why has the business not only survived five decades but positively thrived? “Food is the best medicine,” he explained. “We have always felt that good health comes from a good diet and prioritise ecological production and sustainability. We are constantly sourcing ways to ensure our produce is (where possible) organically and sustainably sourced, as well as obtaining as many plastic-free options as possible.

“We have always been lucky enough to be pretty successful and try to stay ahead of the game by introducing new and innovative products as often as possible. Customers like to know where their food is coming from so we endeavour to source as much as possible from local suppliers and producers. There has been a huge increase in the popularity of vegan and plant-based diets, and this has led to an equally large increase in the variety of plant-based products available.”

He continued: “We are also a family business and we look after each other, we support each other, and we like coming to work. We love what we do, and of course we need to make money, but it is more than that, we are not driven by profit in the way large retail chains are.”

When it comes to the product offering, the Haelan Centre is hugely diverse in what it stocks, across all categories, offering a mini supermarket in many ways. The business stocks an incredible 6,000 products.

Dave commented: “In foods, oat milk is extremely popular at the moment, along with plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. In non-foods, we have a refill area for household and bodycare products that is doing very well. Supplements for immunity such as vitamins C and D, and herbs like echinacea are flying off the shelves at the moment.”

And they are always looking for new developments, with Dave commenting: “We recently expanded our refill sections to provide a plastic-free refill option on laundry liquids and washing up liquids, a wide range of household cleaners, as well as personal hygiene products (shampoos, conditioners and shower gels).”

In terms of what the team looks for when assessing what to stock, he added: “Cost, sustainability and potential for demand. We prefer small and/or local suppliers to large ones!”

And Dave also believes recognition should be given where it’s due and highlighted The Health Store’s support as making a big difference. “Their support has been second to none, they always engage with us and spend the time in helping us,” Dave commented.

Online evolution

Turning in greater detail to the impressive development with the Haelan Centre’s online offering, Dave explained that the focus on this area has been instrumental in their success during the pandemic.

“It has been tough, we had to limit customer numbers in store due to social distancing, but we managed to revamp and relaunch our online store, which has helped wonderfully. We wanted to serve our longstanding customers that were sadly no longer able to visit the store due to the pandemic,” he explained.

“Serving the community is a big part of what we do, therefore, after many months of hard work we were able to relaunch our site www.organictoyourdoor.co.uk and offer 10 per cent off every first order using code ‘otyd10’,”

To cope with demand, they invested in delivery vans, and are utilising space at the stores to service the online orders. But that’s not to say it wasn’t a huge task to get up and running, with the team needing to input the thousands of products themselves.

“E-commerce is the next big thing, and our intention is to keep developing it and to expand. We spent night and day inputting thousands of descriptions into the website, and we very much went for a soft launch so that we could get it up and running,” Dave explained.

The website and click and collect service is advertised in the shop windows and across social media and they have also been part of various Facebook groups, which allow businesses to advertise their offering on certain days.

He added that when they initially relaunched the website, they believed demand would be for supplements, but, in fact, it’s across the store categories and Dave believes this is because they offer competitive prices and quick delivery.

“The whole selling point for us is we are an independent, family-run business and we have a lot of loyalty in the local area. We are driven by the love and passion for it, and the main thing is that we want to work with our customers and engage with them, which the mainstream retailers can’t do,” he explained.

There is much more potential for the website too, and Dave is ambitious for the future. He commented: “Before the pandemic, we generally relied on word of mouth rather than traditional advertising, but we will be experimenting with online SEO.

Like many others during the pandemic, we have been relying on our social media to keep our customers informed. We make sure one of us is always available day or night to answer any online questions customers may have.”

Dave and the team, which currently stands at 19, have plenty of plans to keep developing the business. “We are constantly training and updating their knowledge in terms of customer service, product information and health and safety (particularly health and safety at the moment with the pandemic),” Dave explained. “And we are always on the lookout for new and exciting opportunities. Currently, our biggest plan is to keep growing our online shop, looking for new ways to serve the community, and beyond with our full range of 6,000 products – we feel this is vital during the pandemic, with so many unable to leave their homes. We hope to be able to continue to build on our online presence and are confident that this will happen.

“We are very much looking forward to being able to open back up to full customer capacity in stores. We will also be looking to open new stores when the time is right. We would be open to finding a store that needs some extra help and take it over – we have the staff and the logistics in place to do it. Ideally, we would like to get to five stores around the London area.”


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