In October 2020, General Nutrition Centers (GNC) had an open CEO position. So, I figured why not have some fun and publicly apply for the job by creating a YouTube video. The premise of that content focused around describing my strategic turnaround plan for GNC.
Recently, I caught myself contemplating the future of GNC again. While that “GNC CEO Position Is Newly Open” certainly touched on long-term strategic initiatives, I was thinking in terms of late-2020s to early-2030s era.
What could the GNC shopping experience of the future look like? What would the GNC brand stand for in the future? How will GNC redefine its role within the expanding consumer wellness journey? How could GNC position itself within the frictionless retailing world? Could GNC create a corporate innovation culture that so pervasive that it seeks to “put itself out of business” everyday?
Well, it’s time to turn your TV dials to ABC because The Jetsons is about to start. On this episode, George Jetson gets that “wellness itch” and heads to his local GNC…
“Store of the Future” Ideology
Before I get into specific ideas about the GNC “Store of the Future”, I should probably explain how I envision the role of physical stores playing out within the future of retail (particularly in specialty retail). The store of the future must become a physical portal into brand and product experiences that are relevant to the target audience. That means it becomes a place where consumers can be inspired, learn, socialize, and experiment with new products. It should be a place that prioritizes service, while also using digital touchpoints that drive in-store traffic and enables physical stores to operate as part of a broader, interconnected ecosystem. This will mean that the store network will become an increasingly vital part of last-mile fulfillment.
While all those “bells and whistles” is fun, it should also not overlook the “blocking and tackling” fundamentals of retail:
- Footfall = how to get more people in the front door
- Frequency = how to get them in the front door more often
- Relevance = provide things that matter to consumers
- Brand Consistency = offer on-brand/on-trend products and services
General Wellness Centers?
Wellness is a modern word with ancient roots. As a modern concept, wellness gained popularity in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when subject matter experts largely shaped the way we conceptualize and talk about wellness today. In a 1979 “60 Minutes” segment, Dan Rather stated, “wellness, there’s a word you don’t hear everyday.” Fast-forward to 2010 and the New York Times stated “…more than three decades later, wellness is, in fact, a word that Americans might hear every day…”
Americans aren’t the only ones paying attention to wellness, as the global wellness market is estimated to be $1.5 trillion and growing mid-to-high single-digits annually. The definition of wellness continues to expand and encompass a larger circle of both products and services. Currently, the wellness construct is broken up into six dimensions:
- Better Health
- Better Fitness
- Better Nutrition
- Better Appearance
- Better Sleep
- Better Mindfulness
To be impactful, GNC will need to evolve into General Wellness Centers (GWC) over the next decade…
GNC “Store of the Future”
Consumers walk into GNC locations (or shop online) every day with a strong conviction to reach a specific wellness goal. The problem is that most of those shoppers don’t fully understand the interconnected steps that need to be taken to reach those wellness goals.
This is a perfect business environment set-up for GNC to deploy my “store of the future” ideology!
Where would I “start” in my GNC store of the future concept? The current company name should give you a hint 😉
Nutrition is so much more than selling vitamins and supplements!
GNC should be seeking to break the chain of misinformation that surrounds the nutritional supplements industry. You know the one that has consumers thinking they’re the “easy button” to reaching any wellness goal. This mindset ultimately hurts GNC, since those consumers won’t change other lifestyle variables and be unable to reach their wellness goals. Those consumers will naturally blame the hundreds of dollars in nutritional supplements that they just bought at GNC as being a waste of money.
Instead, GNC should be aligning themselves with consumers embracing the notion that food is medicine. It’s this community that will be essential to tap into for a national retailer like GNC. It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine a high counter that has a juice bar (Note: GNC has tested a smoothie bar in its Pittsburgh experimental store a few years ago). It could be accompanied with tables of fresh organic produce from local farms and merchandised alongside a display of anti-inflammatory supplements. GNC understands the larger points of what I’m mentioning or they wouldn’t have invested and partnered with RealEats.
“Consumers are increasingly looking for healthy and convenient wellness solutions, and by making these products more accessible than ever through GNC, this unique partnership provides an entirely new avenue to drive growth for our business. This marks an important step for GNC as we look to new holistic and innovative approaches to help our customer achieve their goals.” — Cam Lawrence, GNC’s Chief Financial Officer
While that partnership is a great first step, it’s hardly to the extent that I envision in the GNC “Store of the Future.” It should be paired with an extensive library of healthy recipes, how-to videos, and special “Cooking with a fitness celebrity/influencer” shopatainment type classes that are hosted in-person at the local store level and digitally through the GNC app.
The beforementioned GNC experimental store also provided consultations from registered dietitians or nutritionists, which I believe should be a major element within the GNC “Store of the Future.” These resources should also be available to ask questions through the GNC app 24/7 if you’re a Pro Access member to create even more ecosystem value.
Nutrition is only one-sixth of the current wellness dimension, and it will likely be a smaller portion in the next decade as fragments become additional dimensions with popularity. That means GNC will need to consider how they can play a key role in the other wellness dimensions like fitness.
Just as I suggested an extensive offline/online content and event strategy around nutrition, the same concept could be deployed in the fitness dimension. Additionally, space within the store footprint should be utilized for on-brand group fitness classes. I would also make sure there is an oversize window within the store design, so anyone coming into the location could feed off the wellness energy and be interested in checking out the daily schedule.
Since we are talking about store design, I would make sure it was bright, modern, inviting and reminiscent of Whole Foods Market. The store’s exterior (if owned real estate) would also reflect the “healthier planet is a healthier you” vibe by utilizing alternative energy and having EV charging stations in the parking lot.
GNC will need to evolve from coaches that provide disjointed tribal knowledge that leads to misinformation to a culture that utilizes technology. When a customer walks into a GNC “Store of the Future” location, scanners would detect a phone or biometrics that instantaneously pulls up and sends loyalty membership and/or robust customer information to the GNC coaches smart tablets. Based on a short fact finding conversation with the customer, GNC coaches should apply that goal-based information with purchase history and customer data to offer every customer a truly personalized shopping experience on every occasion. Additionally, GNC coaches should be able to provide all customers with a solution that is based on big data patterns from viewing a dashboard of “similar” customers that have had success meeting the same goals. This level of in-store and online personalization should be the expectation in the future and should connect throughout every step within the customer journey.
Merchandise sold at the GNC “Store of the Future” should reflect a more elevated consciousness. It should be a high hurdle for brands to get products into GNC locations. Specialty retail is about being unique, so less emphasis should be on commoditized products that is already omnipresent in other retail channels. Like the food-related merchandise suggested above, GNC should shoot for a future in which consumers think of them first whenever they contemplate anything related to wellness.
That could mean adding items that seems unthinkable today, such as the trendiest athleisure apparel and/or fitness technology. Imagine “Geek Squad at Best Buy” but for fitness technology, diagnostic tools and implementation techniques. This would all feed into the decades long trend of Americans shifting how they once viewed themselves as patients to now viewing themselves as consumers in the healthcare market. In the future, wearables will become so commonplace that we forget they will be tracking our every metric.
Pharmacies + Wellness Retailers?
These wearables would be linked to your health records and connected to insurance companies to help incentivize wellness to offset unsustainable rising healthcare costs. Because of that, GNC should be an active governmental lobbyist in making sure not only supplements, but also food prescriptions are covered by health insurance. Just as GNC has a “store within a store” concept currently at Rite Aid, I can see pharmacies and wellness retailers like GWC eventually merging together to be a stronger beacon of holistic wellness within communities.
GNC “Store of the Future” will acknowledge that the legacy retail business model is dead! Any retail today and especially in the future must have a mindset that places the consumer at the center of a flexible, almost choose your own adventure style of retailing, whenever and however he or she desires it.
Why is this important?
Omnichannel customers have proven they spend more than single-channel shoppers. Frictionless omnichannel retailing should allow for a reimagination of the retail space to handle the new flows of traffic and buying behavior
GNC has unfortunately been a recent story about failed innovation, defining themselves by the physical products they sell, and believing they know what the customers want. I’m fully aware that these “store of the future” ideas rarely make it to market as is, but they can and do lead to new idea generation and incremental changes that, over time, translate into competitive advantages. I hope you enjoy peeking a bit into my futuristic brain and some of the ideas that I see being possible at GNC.