BETTY SHIMABUKURO / BETTY@STARBULLETIN.COM
Birthday balloons decorated Down to Earth's King Street store yesterday. The crowded store is due for renovations in part to help it compete with the coming Whole Foods Market.
Down to Earth ready for natural-foods fight
Down to Earth is celebrating 30 years in business with balloons, specials and a restating of its commitment to vegetarianism, but there's no ignoring the big elephant in the party room -- Whole Foods Market, the mainland chain that's coming to town next year.
CEO Mark Fergusson held a briefing yesterday with reporters to talk about the natural-food chain's plans as it passes the three-decade mark.
His presentation on Whole Foods was called "Preparing for the Invasion."
Competition is nothing to fear, Fergusson said, while noting that in reality Whole Foods and Down to Earth are very different companies -- one upscale with a gourmet allure, the other devoted to organic, 100 percent vegetarian products.
He's observed what happens when Whole Foods has moved in next to regional natural-foods stores on the mainland. "When Whole Foods comes into a community, generally what happens is you lose business -- customers go, 'Oh, there's a new fancy store up the road ...' After a while, if you're a good retailer, customers come back. ... Within a year you're growing again."
Which is not to say Down to Earth plans to simply ride out the storm.
Renovations will be made at the flagship King Street location and at the largest store in the chain, on Maui. The company expects to spend $750,000 in Honolulu to widen aisles and expand the deli, Fergusson said. Another $1 million will go into improvements in Kahului
Last year's opening of a 7,500-square-foot warehouse in Halawa will allow for larger bulk purchases, which cuts costs, he said.
A new logo incorporating an image of Diamond Head emphasizes the chain's local roots. And stores will begin offering a loyalty card next month that allows customers to earn rewards and take advantage of special discounts.
"When you have competition you do a better job," Fergusson said, "so Whole Foods is helping us do a better job."