Better Retailing Awards 2017 – Winner: Chester Health Store

More than beginner’s luck

Niki Davies launched Chester Health Store in 2014 and her caring, sharing nature has netted her the Better Retailing Magazine secret shopper Winner 2017


The Better Retailing Magazine Awards are run in conjunction with the Health Food Institute to reward excellence in health food retailing. Every year, our Secret Shoppers visit around a dozen stores and mark them in five sections – first impressions, store layout, personal attention, check out and overall impression.

Chester Health Store scored a narrow victory with 41/50.

“It’s a small but well presented store and I’m impressed by the friendliness and knowledge of the store’s owner.” That’s how our Secret Shopper summarised a visit to Chester Health Store.

A runner enquiring about leg cramps, our Shopper found a bright and airy store that is very easy to navigate. Although small, it packs quite a punch in terms of the range of products stocked.

After identifying a magnesium supplement, owner Niki Davies made a good impression by chatting through the store’s service to local customers and her determination to provide whatever is needed even if it’s not on the shelves.

“Paying for my items is a fast and friendly experience,” concluded our Shopper.

Niki started in the natural health sector 25 years ago doing paperwork for a chain of local health stores before progressing to being the ‘Saturday girl’, and later was offered the job of manageress.

When the company went into liquidation, she chanced her arm by opening her own store. “My husband had died suddenly two years before so the only family support I had was from my mum and my daughter,” says Niki. “If it wasn't for the friends I'd made in the industry beforehand, I couldn't have done it.”

In love with the job

Niki insists she doesn’t do self promotion. “I just love what I do,” she says. “I’m a rubbish businesswoman but I am bloody honest and just love helping people.

“I'd rather they went away with nothing than a product I didn't believe would help them. This shop has been open over three-and-a-half years and it's only in the last couple of months I've taken any kind of wage from it.”

The shop dates back to 1660 and is located on The Rows in Chester, originally a unique two-tier medieval ‘shopping centre’. As Chester is full of history – Roman, Viking and Medieval – it's guaranteed thousands of tourists every year.

Pride of place goes to supplements with a limited food range and an expanding natural body care section. And dairy-free ice cream for those tourists.

An upstairs therapy room is rented to various therapists whose clients receive a discount off any purchase. The room is also used for workshops.

Caring for customers

The store’s website (chesterhealthstore.co.uk) is now being reinvented with regular updates and social media posts about the store and its activities. A mail order service is available to customers that aren't local but value Niki’s service.

“We have a good local following on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which I try to add to daily,” says Niki. “I recently ordered 500 cloth bags to advertise the shop, and I can't wait to be out spotting them on the streets of Chester and hopefully further afield. The customers love them – some are being given away free dependent on purchase, others we are selling at a very good price.”

A recent window display featured a cannabis leaf to promote cannabidiol, confirming Niki’s slogan that Chester Health Store is "not your average health store". Reaction has been “fantastic”, reports Niki, with lots of people taking selfies in front of the window – and in many cases enquiring about the product.

“I've also set up a little in-store chill area with comfy chairs, cushions and tea, coffee, herbal teas and water all free of charge. I like to look after my customers and is handy for one-to-one quiet chats to discuss customers health issues and so on.”

“We’re absolutely blown away to win this award,” says Niki. “At first we thought it was a wind-up. I honestly can't put into words how pleased and extremely overwhelmed I am. My mum died last summer and things have been tough for me, so this is an incredibly well timed boost.”

Runners-up: Almonds & Raisins, Newcastle & Hansa, Guernsey

Almonds & Raisins has operated for 21 years in Grainger Market, Newcastle, and was just one point adrift from our overall winner. The store is situated in the heart of the city centre within a popular historic market.

“It is very easy to find and it really stands out thanks to its bright colouring and informative window display,” said our Shopper who found plenty of leading name ranges plus “a vast food and drink section including many free-from food and snack options.”

Owner of Almonds & Raisins is Brian Mawson and Elizabeth Kemp is the Manager, and the shop has been running for 21 years.

“We are delighted that the excellent work of the team has been recognised,” says Elizabeth. “For such a small business, customer involvement in what we sell and their trust in us to deliver the best quality products is vital. Our team believe in what they sell and follow the lifestyle our customers do; perhaps that is why the relationships are so good.”

Second runner-up was Hansa in Guernsey. “This is a store strong on stock, in a close-knit community where word of mouth counts above all else,” reported our Shopper. “It has a happy and helpful appeal. Easy to recommend!”

Our shopper encountered books on health and a few items of hardware, an extensive pre-packed health food range, a chilled section plus a good choice of personal care products and a wide range of sports nutrition. The supplements section offers an extensive choice of products from all of the leading brands.

Read the latest Secret Shopper report here...