Business the essence of good health in tough timesSeptember 28, 2012 - 7:00am
Running a business is never an easy task and it’s even tougher these days when most people are watching every cent they spend. But Evergreen Health Foods, which celebrate 20 years in business this year, are weathering the storm pretty well.
“A lot of people have gone back to baking and cooking and having friends over for a meal and they are looking for different kinds of ingredients,” says Aideen Hurley, who opened her first Evergreen shop on the city’s Mainguard Street 20 years ago.
The Mainguard Street shop and the four other Evergreen outlets – in Barna, Moycullen, the Westside Shopping Centre and Galway Shopping Centre – stock a huge range of health foods, supplements and beauty products, attracting customers of all ages and from all backgrounds.
Aideen, a calm and practical woman, says it was never her driving ambition to have five shops – credit for that goes to her husband Kieran.
“Without Kieran I wouldn’t have done it. He sees the possible and is one for expansion. He is very farseeing and willing to take chances whereas I’d be more cautious.”
That’s one reason why they are a good combination when it comes to business.
“We both look after different areas and we try not to be in the same shop at the same,” she says with a laugh.
Aideen began working in retail when she was 14 and was a department head in Moons (now Brown Thomas) in the Waterford Glass section before having three sons in quick succession.
From Renmore, she was one of a family of eight and there was a solid work ethic; her father was a commercial traveller and her mother ran a bed and breakfast. But Aideen had been out of retailing for over a decade when she decided to open Evergreen.
“I was at home for 15 years rearing my family and I wanted to go back to work. I heard that a premises was available and a friend suggested a deli. I set it up as that, but then the health aspect took over.”
From the beginning Evergreen attracted both local people and Europeans who were living locally.
“Germans and French people would come in and I’d ask them what they used different products for and what they’d like to see the shop to stock,” she says. “I was learning as I went along.
Straight away she did a diploma in health-food retailing to learn the ins and outs of the business.
The course, which is run by the Irish Association of Health Stores, offers a cert followed by a two-year diploma. There are exams, which are marked in England, where the diplomas are issued.
Aideen says she and Kieran have since sent all their staff on that diploma course. In fact, Evergreen has put more staff through it than any other health shop in Ireland or England.
“The training is vital, because the staff are more health counsellors than shop assistants. We have wonderful knowledgeable staff.”
When it comes to advising customers on vitamins and supplements, there are guidelines, she adds.
“We can explain the products we sell but cannot diagnose. If people come in who are on medication, we tell them to go back to their doctor and check.”
Evergreen shops regularly host talks and demonstrations on aspects of nutrition and healthcare and Aideen sees that as part of their brief. “It’s about creating awareness. The principal issue is trying to get people to take responsibility for their own health.”
She also talks to ICA groups and other women’s associations on these issues. That might involve demonstrating what constitutes a healthy breakfast or lunch.
“I’d bring in products and show people what they would use them for and then we’d have a conversation about them. There is always one or two people who are very well up.”
In addition, some of the factories around town hold Healthy Eating weeks and she’s invited to take part and have a demonstration area.
“Young people used to scuttle past you before, but in the past few years all age groups are stopping,” she says, happy that people are more conscious of health issues.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.