By June Naylor
The Sunflower Shoppe celebrates 50 years of educating and enlightening when it comes to healthy living.
When visionary Bettye Bradford debuted the Sunflower Shoppe a half-century ago, the pioneering entrepreneur was way ahead of the health and wellness curve. Recognizing the value of healthy eating and other ways of bolstering a weakened system, she opening an 800-square-foot shop in Fort Worth’s Wedgwood neighborhood in 1970, stocking her store with herbal supplements and natural foods. Arming herself with hard-won research, she also educated son Rick, the store’s only other employee, in how to help interested customers learn more about ways to eat and live better.
Today, the abundance of health and nutrition guidance available at our area’s three Sunflower Shoppe Wellness Markets is as expected as it is appreciated. The fact that an independent, family-owned store has been doing this for 50 years — and has expanded — is no small feat.
“When Grandmother got into the business, there weren’t trade shows or organizations that promoted this industry; she just had to figure it out,” says Chad Bradford, the grandson who serves as president today of the company he runs with a brother and two sisters (their dad, Rick, serves as company chairman). “The most exciting part of our business now is that both demand and science have increased dramatically over the years.”
In Bettye’s day, health food stores selling wheat germ, raw honey and supplements beyond basic vitamins were a rare find. As enlightenment went mainstream, Whole Foods Market and Natural Grocers proliferated, grocery stores started healthy living departments and Sunflower Shoppe locations spread across Tarrant County. The Wedgwood store expanded into a large space just off Fort Worth’s busy Camp Bowie Boulevard in 1977; and today, shops in the city’s Alliance corridor and Colleyville also serve customers seeking to bolster immune systems, battle stress and gain insight into the current pandemic.
“Some people are just dipping their toe into the water, and others are finding vast amounts of information online about taking care of themselves. We just want to meet them wherever they are,” says Chad, who joined the business full time 25 years ago. “Getting into a dialogue with people about how they’re eating isn’t easy, but we want to focus on trust so we can have those conversations.”
Although store shelves are stocked with frozen and packaged food and beverages from some 200 suppliers, the Sunflower Shoppe doesn’t encourage a quick-fix approach. That’s where nutritional counseling helps, and among staff offering those services is Bryan Bradford, the brother serving as chief nutrition officer and certified health coach, who grew up stocking shelves and sweeping floors before coming fully aboard 26 years ago.
“There’s great research out there to help find root causes of health problems, and we can fill the gap between the doctor and patient,” Bryan says. He and his team of nutrition experts advise patrons on everything from arthritis and hormone issues to autoimmune disorders — the latter a major category of concern. “We want to treat the systems that break down and create disease. Sometimes our clients ask us questions and then take the information with them to their doctors.”
Customers can book sessions with nutrition practitioners for blood or hair analyses that reveal mineral deficiencies, digestive issues and various toxicity levels. Natural medicine protocols are then recommended, and follow-up testing measures results. Those simply looking to understand the difference between CoQ10 and omega-3 supplements for boosting heart health find a well-informed sales staff.
“We specialize in stress-relief items, too, like essential oils and diffusers, Himalayan salt lamps, bath bombs and a slew of skin and body care items,” says sister Erika McCarthy, who oversees marketing and who says these are especially popular now. “We find products sourced and made locally as much as possible.”
The response to COVID-19 boosted sales on hand sanitizer and toilet paper, of course, as well as yeast and locally sourced, naturally raised chicken and beef. CBD-infused products are popular, as are goods for low-carb, gluten-free, dairy-free and other special diets. Fresh produce is, for now, limited to a small offering at the Colleyville store. Frozen yogurt remains a favorite attraction at the Fort Worth store (sold only in cups for now, but cones may return after pandemic concerns ease).
The siblings agree that the next horizon is a greater online presence for Sunflower Shoppe. The team is ramping up social media, which is especially relevant for the Alliance store’s younger audience. Hosting webinars is high on the to-do list, as is promotion of all three stores’ curbside pickup and home-delivery options.
To a person, each of the brothers, Erika and sister Toni Crawford, who handles human resources and accounting, agrees that working with family is a big plus. They grew up seeing it in action, as grandmother Bettye — whom they lost in 2005 — tapped their grandfather to help out over the years. Dad Rick worked at the store daily with their mom, LaVonne, who was hands-on in modernizing inventory and shaping the Sunflower Shoppe expansion on Camp Bowie when she and her husband were at the helm.
Toni emphasizes each of the siblings brings their own skills to work: “We’re all very different. My sister and I are good talkers, and our brothers are good listeners. What’s great is that we all know our roles and respect each other’s boundaries.” It’s likely Chad speaks for his siblings when he says, “I sleep better at night because I know I can trust my partners.”
Sounds like a healthy way to work and live. Bettye would approve.