It was more than two decades ago and Rhonda Lambert was looking for a career change.
At the time, she was working at one of the swimming pools in Ladysmith and she began raising concerns about her health due to the exposure to pool chemicals such as chlorine.
“I was looking at a change,” Lambert said. “You always think that swimming is this healthy thing, but it isn’t.”
That’s when an environmentalist ecologist suggested she find a career that had lower health risks. So in 1992 Lambert decided to open Island Natural Markets, a store that sells a wide variety of natural products.
“We don’t just want to sell people products, we want it to make a difference for them,” said co-owner Casey Mitchell, who joined the staff in 1999.
Island Natural Markets, which is located in the city’s North End on Metral Drive, was named Best Vitamin/Health Food Store in the News Bulletin’s annual Best of the City survey.
“In winning an award like that, it’s us [Mitchell and Lambert] that earned the picture but it should be all the staff that should be in the picture because without them we wouldn’t be here today,” Lambert said.
Island Natural Markets offers everything from organic foods, groceries, vitamins and supplements as well as body products, gluten-free products, household and houseware products. Lambert and Mitchell also buy a large selection of their products from suppliers from all over Vancouver Island.
“We want to incorporate as much Island based businesses as possible,” Mitchell said.
“We’ve been able to do a lot of local sourcing,” Lambert added. “We’ve got several bodycare products that are from the Island.”
During its 22-year history in Nanaimo, Island Natural Markets has seen its fair share of challenges, including increased competition and economic downturns, but the philosophy has always been about customer service and product knowledge.
“Product selection has always been revamped to the latest products that are out and staff are trained to help people make decisions with their buying,” Lambert said. “You’re not going to a store where there is no staff and you’ve just maybe read your latest Dr. Oz and you’re not sure if it really something you need.”
According to Lambert and Mitchell, one of the main reasons for Island Natural Markets’ success and longevity has been because of the staff’s frequent training on all its products as well as global and consumer trends.
“That’s what’s seen us through some of the difficult times is keeping focused on what we specialize in and what we’re about,” Lambert said.
“A lot of people associate gluten free with healthy,” Mitchell added. “Well, some gluten free products can be loaded with sugars and empty calories. So, we work really hard so that we have good choices and good alternatives. Some gluten free stuff is just crap, but it is gluten free so people have this thing about it.”
Island Natural Markets is located on 6560 Metral Dr. Visit www.islandnatural.ca for more information about the company and for store hours.