Maximize Your Time in the Supplement Section

This month marks 5 years I’ve worked (in some capacity) in the wellness/nourish/supplement section of amazing health food stores. My first day on the floor of a supplement section was completely intimidating and overwhelming. Knowing something about approximately 2,000 products (along with where they actually are on the shelf) takes a heck of a long time to learn and a very specialized skill set. Five years, a masters degree and a license in nutrition later, I could talk about supplements all day long. That is, however, only half of the job.

The second and most important part of working in a supplement section of health food store is helping the people find what they need (and maybe talk them away from things they don’t…). I can speak for the Nourish staff at Ellwood Thompson’s when I say that the gals (and dude) on the supplement floor seriously want to help you, educate you, and answer all of your questions so you walk away empowered and prepared. We’ve been doing this for a while and although we’re a great team of highly educated, smart, fun and amazing people, we are not miracle workers and mind readers. So, after a few years experience with customers, here are some really helpful tips you can prepare yourself with when you go into any health food store looking for supplements:

  1. Get REALLY specific. This is the the most helpful thing you can do when you need a supplement. Bring in your bottle, take a picture of your bottle or write down exactly what you’re looking for or what was on your previous bottle. We can do pretty well off of clues, but saying “It’s that bottle with the black lid, green writing and white capsules” is like going into a huge department store and asking the clerk “I’m looking for that thing I got last time that I pull over my head, covers my chest and torso I think had sleeves”. We need more info, and a game of 20 questions can only go so far.
  1. Oz actually isn’t here. No, none of us watch Dr. Oz and probably have no idea what he was talking about on his last show. If someone on TV (or a magazine) talks about something you’re interested in, write down everything and we will do our best to find it for you or order it for you if we don’t have it. Also, please don’t ask the staff what this latest greatest product is used for (see #3 below).
  1. Do not ask for specific health advice. You probably didn’t know that there is a federal law called DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health Education Act) that actually makes it illegal for us to give you any health advice whatsoever, tell you what anything is used for or tell you any other information than whats actually printed on the bottle. This law was enacted mainly for the supplement manufacturers and claims they can/cannot make about their products, and it also has some major restrictions about who can say anything at all about their products, including folks working in the supplement section. The best we can do is tell you to gather more info from your doctor, nutritionist, nurse practitioner etc., and we can help you find it. We can not diagnose, treat, or recommend you anything for your illness. Do your research first before coming into the store to minimize frustrations for both you and the supplement steward.
  1. Ask your nurse/doctor/health care provider for specifics. This means dose and brand. If your doctor sends you away saying “go to the store and get a CoQ10 supplement”, ask exactly what brand, what dosage and how often you need to take it. Dose does matter (a heck of a lot, actually) and the supplement stewards definitely cannot tell you what dose to take. That’s your doctors job, and it actually does matter what dose you take, so always ask. This makes it easier to pick from the 15 different CoQ10’s on the shelf, all dosed differently.
  1. Avoid the lunch hour or 5:00 rush. In the three health food stores I’ve worked in, it’s a cold hard fact that lunchtime and dinner time mean there are a LOT of people coming through the supplement department (and Ellwood Thompsons is super busy at that time always). There are only so many of us on the floor to help upwards of 15-20 people at a time who all need assistance finding something and have questions. Please avoid coming in at this time if you have a lot of questions or plan to take more than 3-4 minutes talking with one of us. We want to help you more than anything, and we also need to be fair to other customers waiting for our attention. If you have a lot of questions, we definitely want to talk to you, and mornings or later in the evenings is the best time for that when fewer folks are needing help.

Supplement Staff

That about covers the basics. Bottom line, do a little research yourself before coming in, have a list of questions ready and a very specific product you’re looking for (with name, brand, size and dosage). We have an enormous selection of supplements to choose from, and we want you to walk away with exactly what you’re looking for!


Lindsay Kluge M.Sc, CNS, LDN

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