Tanka Spotlight: Ravenswood Natural Health

March 23, 2011

Tanka Spotlight: Ravenswood Natural Health

Since our launch in October 2007 we have been privileged to work with outstanding retail partners. These folks are so passionate about their businesses and their customers we decided we needed to share their unique stories. If you'd like to be featured, or if you'd like to nominate a Tanka retailer for a story, please contact Jenice Johnson at jenicejohnson@tankabar.com.

RETAILER: Ravenswood Natural Health

LOCATION: 1606 Hopmeadow Street, Simsbury, CT, 06070

When the outlook looked bleak for Sara Thornton to find work after being laid off, she didn't give up - she got creative.

With more than 20 years of experience in operations and purchasing, as well as having studied and used herbal supplements for more than 30 years, Ms. Thornton started thinking about the possibilities.

"Back in Christmas 2009, I was with some friends and we realized we were unemployed, underemployed, and just plain bored being retired," she said. "We came up with a wild idea to buy an existing health food store and found it wasn't on the market."

With her career background, Ms. Thornton said her "big picture" mindset got her thinking, "If we had this size budget to buy a store, what else could that money buy?"

She recalled a property she favored once that had been empty for some time.

"It had a big old barn perfect for classes, a rambling main building big enough for several small businesses, and a one-acre, huge old and neglected garden that I could have classes and fairs in," she said. "So I inspected the property and went back to my friends. I proposed that, if we had this sort of budget for a store, we could get a whole lot more for our money if we bought this other site."

Ms. Thornton's plan was to start a vitamin shop and bring in other businesses to help encourage customers. She said after weeks of business "wheeling and dealing," she closed on February 22, 2010. She said the contractors painted, installed lights, cleaned the carpeting, installed or repaired the locks and more, in less than two weeks.

"I set up the inventory system and sent out the first orders," she said "Friends helped load the shelves and prep for a very soft opening three weeks later on March 13, 2010. Our grand opening was two and a half months later on May 29, 1010."

Ravenswood Natural Health, located in Simsbury, one of the oldest towns in Connecticut -- established in 1670, has eclectic decor. All of the fixtures are aged and the tables and bookcases are repurposed. There are very little new display/shelving items and a lot of recycled or re-used things for display.

"Even my sales desk is a solid maple baby changing table and dresser combo -- but it's a perfect size and shape," she said.

When asked what makes her shop stand out from the rest, Ms. Thornton said she feels most vitamin stores/health food stores have a very "New Age and exclusive sort of bent" which her shop doesn't represent.

"Back in the 1970s, when I was a teenager in Austin, TX, The Hobbit Hole was a favorite store. They had vitamins, supplements, healthy food and crafts from around the region. Totally cool, funky little shop set up in an old Mexican restaurant, complete with hacienda roof and pine plank floors," she said. "If there was anything magical or New Age (this was before that term was even in use) it was back behind a tie dye curtain."

She said that the New Age moved into health food stores in the 1980s and from the 1990s on it built momentum with yoga, reiki, vegans, raw vegans and others.

"The problem is that many people feel uncomfortable walking in if they aren't any of the above. So now, in this area, some health food stores have tarot card readers, psychic fairs, etc. or cater to one small group or another to the extent that the average bear feels uncomfortable walking in," Ms. Thornton said. "Ravenswood is different because I'm science based, have the Physicians' Desk References for herbs and nutritional supplements, standard herbals from the UK, and have a comfortable, old-fashioned general store atmosphere."

Ravenswood hosts craft fairs and promotes science-based alternative therapies and programs like massage therapy. She also said she sources as much from US companies as possible and said she tries to give business to minority companies as well.

There is no mistaking Ms. Thornton's passion for what she does. She admits running a business can be a challenge but she said she has learned some things along the way. Some of her main advice to fellow potential business owners is to learn to listen.

"Listen twice as much as you speak. When a problem seems huge, take time to walk in the garden and listen to the birds. Walk away from the issue for 10 minutes, and then come back with new eyes," she said. "Smile at everyone who comes in, and don't take yourself too seriously. Life is too short to hold grudges. Evict anyone or anything negative in your brain or mind that you worry or fret about. That takes time away from growing your business."

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