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Seeing Health, and Sales, Holistically



— April 25, 2018

Seeing Health, and Sales, Holistically

  • Sometimes a store is more than just a place to shop.

Sometimes a store is more than just a place to shop.

“We do a lot of tending to the community,” says Marian Workman, proprietor of Herbie’s Natural Foods in Whittier, California. “We look at how we’re integrated into the community, providing jobs for people of different ages, responding to people’s need to talk about their issues. It’s not just a transaction of a product for a price.”

Workman, a registered nurse, began working in the nutrition field in 1982. This year marks the 25th anniversary of her store, which she opened when she wanted to buy the herbal remedy horehound but could only get it wholesale. In honor of the herbs she purchased as her initial stock, she named the business Herbie’s. The store now offers nearly 3,000 square feet of supplements, herbs, natural foods, and sports nutrition products, as well as an assortment of gifts, jewelry, incense, and clothing.

Workman likes to travel and sometimes comes home with unique items. For example, she bought small figures called pocket saints from artists in New Mexico, each accompanied by an affirmative message, as a way of tending to people’s spiritual needs.

“I take an eclectic approach to health,” Workman explains. “The old paradigm from the ’50s was the triangle of doctor-pharmacist-patient, and that was the extent of the understanding of the healthcare system. Now we embrace many choices, and we encourage the patient to be proactive, choosing what’s comfortable. Not everyone is comfortable with acupuncture, for example, but it’s available for those who want it.”

Likewise, there isn’t a standard set of supplement recommendations for all customers at Herbie’s. As Workman puts it, “There’s no one magic vitamin or green pellet that’s right for everyone.”

Workman knows that supplementation works best in the context of a healthy lifestyle. She asks customers about their exercise habits, noting, “Think how active people were 100 years ago. We go around constipated because we need to drink more fluids and move more.” In fact, she has offered a slight pay differential to employees who bike to work, encouraging exercise and relieving a former parking problem.

The store’s clientele varies widely. “We get children on their way home from school,” says Workman, “like the junior high boy who stopped in to buy precooked oatmeal. We get people with walkers in their 80s or 90s, with their caregivers. And we get everyone in between. We try to be nurturing and of service to people of all ethnicities. I hope everyone feels comfortable here.” She often hires high school and college students, training them in skills that will help them in future jobs.

Workman quotes the World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” She practices what she preaches; nearly 100% of the food she eats comes from her store. “I eat primarily organic but not slavishly,” she says. “I try not to be a food snob or judgmental about others’ choices.” She also practices hot yoga and places an emphasis on maintaining social connections.

Herbie’s is embedded in communal relationships, and Workman wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m staying local—I’m not motivated to have strong Internet sales,” she says. “My heart is in helping the community.” Seeing Health, and Sales, Holistically Herbie’s Natural Foods, Whittier, California D

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