Co-operative bucks trend by keeping headquarters in Hamilton, writes Narelle Henson . --------------------
Health 2000 is a business on the verge of growing up, according to managing director Alan Morpeth.
Twenty years ago it was a fledgling Waikato business struggling against the stereotype of "alternative medication".
Its natural supplements, remedies and holistic approach to health were lodged firmly in the category of hippie fad.
Now, it operates 82 stores around the country from its Hamilton headquarters, has made significant steps into mainstream medicine, and will soon be looking at export options around the world.
To top it off, the co-operative has just moved into its latest Hamilton store, which combines retail, operations and warehousing spaces. It was a kick against the trend of moving headquarters to Auckland, says Morpeth, but he has no regrets about the decision to sign the six-year lease.
"I've had a lot of people say, ‘Why don't you just move to Auckland?' and a lot of CEOs probably would have done just that.
"Ninety per cent of our suppliers are there, but the people that work in the support office, they're good people, and they really do care about the business and a lot of them live and breathe what we're about."
Morpeth says it is passion that has helped the business survive 20 years - and the transformation from retailer/shareholder operation to co-operative - and that passion is likely to see it survive another 20 years in the industry.
"When the group was formed a lot of the members, either they personally, or someone who was close to them, suffered from some ailment and they went through the traditional medicine channel, had no success, then tried alternative medicine.
"It worked, and then they just became avid believers. They got into the business and started spreading the word. That, today, is what we're still trying to do. We need to get better at it, but that's the difference between us and our competitors, we genuinely live and breathe the product and are passionate about it."
He is serious about that too. According to Morpeth, if his retailers had the option of selling an excellent $1 product, or an average $5 product, they would "sell the $1 product every day of the week".
"We're not a business that's about turning over as much product as possible, although that's nice.
"We're about actually making sure people leave the store with the right product for whatever their ailment is."
It seems to have worked. The group turns over $37 million a year, and employs about 300 people around the country.
Morpeth says the task of selling product has been helped along the way by a change in society too.
"There are more and more GPs taking notice of natural health and in a lot of instances actually recommending it," he says.
"That's great, because it obviously gives us a lot of credibility.
"That obviously gives us a lot more confidence in selling the product."
Morpeth himself admits to having taken a while to warm up to the idea of natural health supplements and remedies.
He stumbled across Health 2000 while looking for a job.
"I was looking to move into a general manager role, to be honest that was the first thing.
"I had played around with natural heath, but I wasn't an avid believer in it, then this role came up and I applied for it and got it. As I've been in the role I've been converted from someone who just played around in it to someone who really believes in it."
Having just celebrated eight years in the role, he says he has a firm idea of where the co-operative needs to be heading in the next five years.
Aside from looking at branding and marketing, the goal is to expand the current 82 stores significantly. There is also the goal of having a significant presence overseas.
"We've got a strategy meeting in two weeks time and we're looking at export opportunities," he says.
While Australia seems an obvious first step, Morpeth says it is a highly competitive market, and looking further abroad could be a better option.
"Singapore might actually be easier for us. You've got obviously an Asian market with a strong western influence."
The final hurdle is in education, says Morpeth.
"People have got to realise that natural health, it's a change in lifestyle, it's a journey.
"It's about taking regular supplementation from now right through to when you die, and making sure that you eat really well, and exercise really well, and if you do those three things chances are you're going to live a longer, healthier lifestyle."
It's obvious that Morpeth has been infected by the Health 2000 Hamilton passion, and easy to see why he believes the city team's passion is so important to the business's future.
"Once we get to the end of that [six-year] lease it'll roll on, we're here for good," he says.