Living the Healthy Life

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Steve Rolfes

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These are exciting times for Vitamin Shoppe. From a single location in 1977, the company has grown into a national chain of 424 stores in 37 states and two Web sites,

In late July, Vitamin Shoppe parent company VS Holdings Inc. filed to raise as much as $143.8 million in an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. The company, which is majority owned by Irving Place Capital Management, said it planned to rename itself Vitamin Shoppe Inc. in the prospectus filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. (VS Holdings had initially filed for a $150 million IPO in May 2007, but withdrew those plans in February because of “unfavorable market conditions.”)

Although VS did not specify an expected timing for the IPO or the number of shares to be offered in its filing, it did say it believes the market could support 900 stores. The chain also said net sales grew at an annual rate of 11.3% between 2005 and 2008, during which time it opened 171 new stores, to reach $601.5 million.

As Vitamin Shoppe prepares to go public, it also has launched a new retail format: Eco Shoppe. It is dedicated to helping consumers live a more sustainable lifestyle. “With the introduction of Eco Shoppe, there is now one destination delivering products, services and education for living an eco-friendly and healthy lifestyle all in one place,” said Steve Rolfes, director of business development, Vitamin Shoppe.

Rolfes, who is overseeing the launch of Eco Shoppe, spoke with Chain Store Age editor Marianne Wilson about the new format, which debuted in Austin, Texas, in August, followed by a second location in Walnut Creek, Calif. (Click here for more on Eco Shoppe.)

Where did the idea for Eco Shoppe originate? How does it fit with Vitamin Shoppe? 

Vitamin Shoppe has always been dedicated to helping people fulfill their health and wellness needs with a special focus on bringing the best in green living products directly to consumers.

After testing a small assortment of green living products in Vitamin Shoppe stores, we conducted a lot of market research. It was clear that there is a strong synergy between a Vitamin Shoppe customer who takes care of her health and a person wanting to be eco-friendly. An entire store of green products seemed like the natural next step, and Eco Shoppe was born.

The prototype store is in Austin, Texas. Why Austin? 

Austin’s dedication to green living made it a perfect choice for the very first Eco Shoppe.

What is the merchandising strategy? 

Eco Shoppe prides itself on offering the largest collection of fair trade and small, independent eco-friendly products—including many local vendors—all in one store.

We’ve broken down our merchandise into the following areas: home and garden, office; pets, kids and baby, jewelry, yoga and conservation.

How would you describe the overall store environment? 

We strive to make the environment in Eco Shoppe stores a combination of inspiration with information. The products have an interesting story that is told by educational signs and the employees.

For example, we have drinking glasses and vases made from recycled glass, brooms and mops that used to be soda bottles, and paper made from elephant dung.

As customers explore the store, they see items they use on a daily basis that have been made into something else. The store has a recycling area for customers to bring in old ink cartridges, cell phones, bottles, etc.

Even the signs used in the store to tell the story have a story of their own: They are printed on paper that contains wildflower seeds, and once the store is finished with the sign, it is cut up and given to customers to plant. It’s a great concept and a terrific way to make good use of signs, while helping plant more flowers.

The second Eco Shoppe has opened in Walnut Creek, Calif. Are there any other openings planned at this point? 

Vitamin Shoppe looks forward to expanding Eco Shoppe in the future, but right now we are focusing on our first two stores in Austin and Walnut Creek, and the Web site of ecoshoppe.com .