Whole Foods is the behemoth in the world of organic and natural-focused supermarkets that grew to its current size by eating much of the competition. Still, in the high-stakes world of organic grocers, yesterday’s constantly growing innovator is today’s outdated dinosaur, and the drop in same-store earnings at Whole Foods has been the subject of much speculation about the company’s future. Competition from stores ranging from traditional supermarkets like Kroger to smaller, more nimble organic shops like Trader Joe’s has caused the Austin-based giant to look for new ways to reach customers and change its image from “overpriced seller of luxury foods” to “the place where you should go every week.” So what’s the new strategy? Tattoos, obviously.
Well, “tattoos” isn’t the whole answer. Currently, Whole foods is planning on opening a series of smaller, cheaper stores that compete more directly with Trader Joe’s, under the branding “365 by Whole Foods Market.” Those stores aim to reach millennials and budget-conscious families who would rather not eat GMO-modified and factory-farmed foods, but who prefer to save their discretionary budgets for some additional skin art. Or something like that.
It’s hard to know how else to read the news that Whole Foods is looking to put tattoo parlors inside some of these 365 by Whole Foods Market locations. Many current Whole Foods locations already embrace the store-within-a-store model—locations are known to offer massages, a variety of in-store restaurants, and more—but the target shopper for the 365 locations apparently wants to get inked up and buy some kale, a pound of free-range chicken, and their whole-bean, fair-trade coffee without having to move the car. As Bloomberg reports:
Whole Foods Market Inc. Co-Chief Executive Officer Walter Robb, seeking to appeal to younger, budget-conscious shoppers, says his company’s new 365 chain is going to try some tactics outside of the conventional grocery-store playbook.
Whole Foods has advertised that it’s looking to find suppliers and vendors to set up shop in its 365 stores through a program called “Friends of 365.” The new chain’s website says shoppers may see other businesses, such as body-care product sellers, record shops and tattoo parlors, inside 365 stores and on its outdoor patios.
The new locations will help Whole Foods “reach more communities than we would be able to with our mother ship,” Robb said during an interview on Bloomberg TV.
Record stores and body-care products aren’t a surprise—Whole Foods already sells a fair number of Adele CDs to customers, and expanding that part of the business by partnering with vendors seems like a logical added value. Body-care products have long been a part of the Whole Foods brand, too, and opening that up to the smaller stores without having to make the investment in inventory similarly makes plenty of sense.
Tattoos, though, are a bit more off-brand. Although certainly people who have tattoos could be a substantial part of the market Whole Foods caters to, “fresh produce” and “tattoos” go together like—well, like any two other things that have literally nothing to do with one another, and which might be kinda unsanitary to put in the same place. “I’m going to Whole Foods, and while I’m there, I might get a copy of The Life Of Pablo and some shea butter” is a statement that makes sense. “I need some soy milk and to get the next part of my sleeve filled in,” though, combines a couple of errands that most people are usually content to do on two separate trips.
It remains to be seen exactly how successful the 365 By Whole Foods Market store concept is—the first one is set to open in California in May, with a rollout of a handful of other West Coast shops in the months to follow. And whether the stores attract new customers to the brand. or just give current Whole Foods customers a slightly more convenient place to shop, is similarly unknown. With so many question marks hanging over the company’s head, throwing some random stuff at the wall to see what sticks—permanently, in the case of the tattoos—seems as good of a plan as any.