Finding Buddha at Walmart

The changing face of the spiritual market.
by : 

Jacki Smith

April 1, 2013

The media is doing it, famous people are doing it … even business leaders are doing it! Self-discovery is no longer laughed at, magnetic therapy is sold on infomercials, yoga is considered an integral part of fitness, color therapy is used by designers, and aromatherapy can be found in drugstores.

A decade ago, Oprah made being spiritual and inspirational cool and profitable, and now we have spiritual superstars that everyone—alternative to mainstream—has heard of: Iyanla Vanzant, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, and Eckhart Tolle … even Dr. Phil has his spiritual side. Kabbalah is a household word (thanks Madonna and Ashton) and mediums are all over the media. With the Dalai Lama more recognizable than the Vice President, the metaphysical world is clearly more accepted in daily life today.

Open any of today's top business leadership books and you'll find spiritual concepts at the core of running a successful business. CEOs, managers, and supervisors are incorporating community, transparency, life balance, and spiritual growth into their bottom line. Stephen Covey's New York Times bestseller, The 7 Habits of Successful People, describes spiritual growth as an integral part of your success! Business isn't the same "old boys club" anymore; it is filled with energetic, courageous, and spiritually inspired people who were raised amid the growing acceptance of the spiritual side of life.

The hottest trends at gift shows are conscious living, Fair Trade, and insightful products. Independent gift stores are widening their spiritual consciousness, incorporating everything from organic skin care to chakra balancing kits, and customers are responding favorably with their dollars. Some of the largest independent gift stores are not only loaded with Buddha statues, they even host meditation nights right along with their Troll Bead collector events.

What does this mean for you, the independent retailer?

If running a spiritually focused store has always been your niche, you may now find yourself in direct competition with big-box stores that can offer deep discounts on the same merchandise found on your shelves.

If you are just beginning to incorporate good-for-you goods into your product mix, you may be wondering about the best way to capitalize on this ever-expanding conscious-consumer trend. Illuminate your path in the changing spiritual market with our advice for two unique retailers: Niche and New Age and Mainstream and Mindful.

Niche and New Age

New Age retailers: Get up and give yourselves a round of applause! You did it—you helped make the spiritual acceptable in everyday life! But, wait. Did your job too well? If your niche market is not so niche anymore, what does that mean for the store owner who sunk everything into their spiritual store? If Tarot cards and spell kits can be found at the mall—and cheaper to boot—how does this affect you? When Kindle is taking over the book world and becoming a verb, how do you stay in the spiritual book business? When you can find a Buddha statue at Walmart, is your viability as a store, or the viability of your niche market in general, at risk?

Yes it is.

Now hold on, this is a good thing if you are willing to up your game and change your perspective. But, if your business plan remains rooted in the same mauve-colored, make-up-the-rules-as-you-go reality in which you opened your spiritual store, your ongoing viability as a store is at risk. Educated, aggressive, business-savvy spiritual seekers are stepping into the spiritual marketplace—and spending money. If they can't find in the niche stores the deep-discount shopping experience they are accustomed to, they will spend their money in the mainstream big-box stores instead.

These new customers need you. They may have purchased their Buddha statues at Walmart, essential oils from the grocery store, and color therapy baths from their local salon, but they need your knowledge to put it all together for them. They need the expert (you!) to help them make sense of the threads of spirituality they are finding in the mainstream world—before those threads get all tangled up!

Shoppers can't count on big-box employees to know the story of Buddha, let alone explain the difference between the laughing Buddha (prosperity, abundance, and laughter) and the Abhaya Mudra (peaceful intentions and protection). All they have time to do is check the price when asked. You offer expertise in spiritual quests. You can supply them with the right books, training, and products made with integrity and consciousness. You get to swoop in and be the hero to the new crop of spiritual seekers and explain why they are drawn to the laughing Buddha and how to capitalize on the energy of abundance it represents.

The biggest change the spiritual market has experienced is that you no longer have to step outside your daily life to experience spirituality; you can bring spirituality into your daily life. This is a really big deal in our world. Magical and spiritual stores are no longer relegated to the back roads; we are on the main streets of America carving out a presence and a market that is welcomed. Gift stores have dedicated shelf space to inspirational authors and musicians. "Fair Trade" and "conscious living" are the buzz words at the major trade shows, and people are looking for a store like yours to explore this spiritual and magical side of life.

Where does that leave you, the classic New Age store? Are you keeping up with this trend or are you scratching your head, grousing about the economy and how all small businesses are on the brink? Are you making it easy for these new customers to find you or are you hiding in the background? There is working with spirit and consciousness, and then there is operating under the fantasy that the right customer will find you when they need you. This Harry Potter "store of requirement" wish can only take you so far if you are not letting the world at large know you are there. If you think marketing is a waste, you are marketing to the wrong people. Help your customer find you.

Before your throw your hands up in frustration that the big-boxes have absorbed another market, take a look at your opportunities for growth. Are you playing the best business game you can? Are you living up to your role as entrepreneur or are you just showing up to your store every day like it's a job? Yes, our niche is widening into a mainstream trend and that means you can't phone it in. Your creativity, vitality, passion, and focus, your personal touch and your depth and breadth of knowledge in the body-mind-spirit arena are the keys to your future survival and growth.

Whenever competition moves in, you get an opportunity to look at your own hard truths, your own challenges, and your own unique qualities and become even better at what you do. You get to see in a mirror the areas where you have been lagging behind and the habits hindering your growth. If you look at competition as what stops you from growing, you are losing an opportunity that is a real gift. The changing spiritual market is that opportunity—to become the better business owner, the better leader, the better marketer, or just the better expert in your niche area.

Mainstream and Mindful

Conscious-living retailers: Thank goodness that as a human race we are growing in spiritual awareness. Consciousness and spirituality concepts (e.g., Law of Attraction), spiritual leaders (e.g., Eckhart Tolle), and mindful practices (e.g., meditation and yoga), as well as the growth of similar movements, such as alternative health, environmentalism, organic farming, and Fair Trade have become accepted and encouraged as part of humanity's larger conversation. This little ole' movement once called "New Age" has crossed the threshold and achieved its long-held dream: the spread of conscious living throughout society.

What was once a fringe concept is now 50 million strong and reaches across all demographics. These conscious consumers have an eye for quality and value and are socially aware. The new spiritual hipsters are mindful of the environment, and self-improvement and spiritual exploration is a part of their everyday conversations. They are actively embracing products that support their desire to lead healthy, positive lives, spending $229 billion each year on products that uplift body, mind, and spirit. Did you catch that number? I will repeat…. 229 billion dollars!

The changing spiritual market gives independent gift store owners permission to blend spiritual products in with their everyday products. It's no longer a risk to stock shelves with magical candles, goddess jewelry, angel therapy sprays, relaxation CDs, yoga mats, or crystal products. Mainstream stores are finding that stocking inspirational messages from religious and spiritual leaders from all over the world draws that new customer looking to bring balance to their life.

With its broad, far-reaching appeal, the spiritual market offers inspiration, hope, and support for health and well-being at all levels: mental, emotional, physical, environmental, and societal. Your customers are increasingly searching for products that can help bring balance and meaning to their life, and you can help them in their search. In fact, it's very likely you already stock conscious-living products that uplift and inspire ... so put a sign on it!

Buddha statues, candles, journals, Feng Shui items, prayer flags, jewelry with healing stones, meditation music, inspirational books—all facilitate positive transformation. All you need to delve deeper into the spiritual market is to make it easy for your customers to notice the personal enrichment products you already carry within your everyday selections and educate them on how to use them.

Grab a Buddha statue from your garden section, a sampling of relaxation CDs from you music corner, a selection of candles in various shapes and sizes, and a tabletop fountain from home décor, and you've got a beautiful display that showcases the healing, stress-reducing power of meditation. Or, spotlight eco-conscious products that give back to environmental nonprofits such as 1% for the Planet. Its 1,300 member organizations—including companies whose products you may already carry—make environmentally friendly items as varied as skin care, coffee and chocolates, home décor, jewelry, apparel, and stationery.

Create signage to educate customers on how to use transformational products you carry, and educate your staff as well. Your vendors may even have informational materials they can supply at no extra cost. Anything you can do to tell the story of the product, the artisan that made the product, or the topic it addresses will add meaning, perceived value, and incentive to buy. By positioning yourself and your staff as knowledgeable and approachable, you will gain an edge on the big-box stores and help secure your customers' loyalty.

Another way to establish your store as the go-to place for spirit, enlightenment, hope, and balance is through events. Hold an in-store event or sponsor events in the community that tie back to merchandise you sell: a yoga demonstration, a Feng Shui workshop, a forum on Fair Trade … any event that will help get the word out about the good-for-you goods you carry. In-store events draw people into your store; community events allow you to do social marketing the old-fashioned way: face-to-face. In our fast-paced world, it's the personal connection that sets independent retailers apart from your big-box counterparts.

The bottom line

The spiritual market isn't shrinking; it's expanding—and fast! It is growing in a way that is welcomed (and absorbed) by the mainstream. If you want to survive and thrive in this changing market, it's time to up your game, re-focus, and get energized! Whether you are a retailer newly embracing body-mind-spirit or a long-time spiritual store owner looking to attract new customers, 2013 is your time to become a better store owner, a more dynamic entrepreneur, and a leading resource for customers seeking to create a better life.

Want more resources to up your game?

Jacki Smith is the Founder and Enchantress of Coventry Creations (www.coventrycreations.com) as well as author of the best-selling book Coventry Magic. Her magical candles have been changing lives for nearly 20 years. Jacki's continual study of the retail market helps her help her customers stay in business and keeps her from throwing in the small-business towel.