It’s midmorning when a loud whistle breaks the fall-like air alerting those in Old Town Lenexa a train is coming through. For Nancy Baum, it’s a welcome sound and part of the charm that wooed her and partner Vicki McIntosh to open their business, Bulk It, in an historic area of Johnson County.
The two women teamed up to open the retail store on Santa Fe Train Drive across from the railroad tracks a year ago. The store offers various food items in bulk as well as a smoothie and juice bar within its 1,200-square-foot space. It is open six days a week.
Q: What’s the extent of what Bulk It carries?
“We carry spices, teas, herbs, beans, rice, trail and party mixes, candy nuts and seeds,” said Baum, most of which is organic, non-genetically modified, and all in bulk form.
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There are a variety of flours and other food items, many of which are gluten-free and vegan. Bulk It also carries a small assortment of natural meats.
“We are not in the meat business, but we carry natural sausage,” she said.
The store carries honey from local vendors, cookies and even natural dog biscuits.
A series of clear bins line one wall; other merchandise is carried in large barrels and canisters allowing customers to take a peek at the products. Gift items from local companies are also available for purchase.
One thing is consistent throughout the store —– the partners have put an emphasis on being green.
“We strive not to pre-pack,” Baum said. “Our goal is to have a very small carbon footprint so all of our packaging, cups, straws, lids are all plant-based materials...We don’t use any paper and ink — we use chalkboards for all of our signage.”
Q: How did you come up with the concept?
For 18 years, Baum owned a small medical business that did drug screening and data collection. When an opportunity arose to sell it, Baum did just that and began to contemplate her next move in life.
“All I ever wanted to do was work in the organic food business and do yoga—I wanted to get healthy and get clean,” she said.
During the transition, Baum worked at a Green Acres store north of the river. She also became a certified yoga teacher. “My health was taking a toll from my other business. I had no energy, and I wanted to get healthier.”
Baum enjoyed her work when a friend suggested opening a bulk item store featuring healthy products. Baum liked the idea.
“I thought if I am going to work this hard for somebody I could work for myself,” Baum said.
Q: How did Bulk It come together?
Baum mentioned the store idea to Vicki McIntosh, a longtime friend who is a certified public accountant.
“She said, ‘I want to be part of this,’ and we worked out a complete business and financial plan,” Baum said. “We used our money...We were so passionate about it.”
It took about six months to put the business and financial plans together with Baum and McIntosh as co-owners.
Location was the next big decision.
“We had to find a location that we could afford and become a community store, where people could come and find good healthy things and feel good when they came and when,” Baum said. “ We decided on Old Town Lenexa because of the revitalization going on.”
The two women found their current location that had been an office. They did most of the renovation themselves — with a little bit of help.
“We had a fantastic carpenter, who had done some work for me in the past,” Baum said. “He helped us with all the repurposing. We painted it, laid down wood floors. All the furniture is consignment or from thrift stores that we cleaned up.”
Q: How did you decide on inventory and where to get it?
Baum and McIntosh knew the kinds of items they liked to shop for and what other natural and organic retailers carried.
“Working at Green Acres was a blessing in disguise because I met so many vendors and I was introduced to so many products,” Baum said. “I’ve gotten to other vendors by word of mouth and I do reconaissance at other stores and call them directly.”
Some local vendors co-package, and that introduced Baum and McIntosh to additional products for the store. And they are always on the lookout for new items.
The women try not to purchase more than they can use.
“We don’t have any back stock,” Baum said. “That is what kills you in this business. We order it when we need it.”
Pricing is a delicate art.
“We don’t have the buying power of a Whole Foods, so when it comes to items that we cannot get locally, we are higher on them,” Baum said. “But local products we are generally lower than other stores.”
Q: Who are Bulk It’s customers and how do you reach them?
Baum said most of the store’s customers live or work in the area. However, the partners have done some marketing to bring in new traffic.
“Mostly by social media,” Baum said. “We also have a 10 percent off coupon for your first time in.”
The store holds occasional special events and classes that help draw traffic to the store. Baum offers a free yoga class on Wednesday mornings.
“It’s a chair yoga class and anyone who doesn’t like the traditional mat yoga or who cannot physically do a traditional class can do this,” she said. Other offerings address topics of interest such as a sugar detox class, and all are free.
Baum has broadened Bulk It’s menu beyond smoothies to include a few fresh sandwiches made on site. There are also hot soups in the winter made by a local vendor.
“Everything we use is organic,” she said.
She advertises the offerings through the we site and on the chalkboards in the store.
“You have to continually bring in new items — you can’t be stagnant,” Baum said. “We do a Tamale Tuesday and offer different items.”
Community engagement is another marketing tool for getting the word out. Bulk It also spreads the word by helping local schools and organizations with merchandise for their fundraisers.
Q: What does the future hold for Bulk It?
“The ultimate compliment is when people come in and ask ‘Is this a franchise,|” Baum said. “We have partners waiting in the wings.”
However, she said it’s too early to move in that direction.
“We’re still trying to figure out what’s working,” Baum said. “We hope to open more in fun, campy areas like Old Town (Lenexa).”
In a nutshell
COMPANY: Bulk It
ADDRESS: 13444 Santa Fe Trail Drive, Lenexa
WEB SITE: www.bulkitfoods.com