From the outside, Zenith Supplies in unassuming, and it’s hard to tell what is being sold behind the plain black sign and simple red storefront.
Zenith has been in its current location for 10 years.
But inside, there are products for massage, DIY body care products, candles, homeopathic remedies and other new-age knick knacks for sale.
The company began in 1975 when owner Jacob Griffis, a certified massage therapist, was having a hard time finding a good massage table. Instead of searching, he decided to make and sell them himself. Once he realized it was too labor-intensive, he expanded the business, but still sells U.S.-made massage tables.
The store transformed in response to what people in the community were looking for, employee Liz McCarty said. Often times people will travel from other states to test the products in store and avoid the expensive shipping costs.
“A lot of it is very tactile,” she said. “You want to be able to smell things and try things.”
Now, the store services a variety of clientele, from massage professionals, DIY and crafters, and the medical marijuana industry.
Zenith sells their lotions and oils in bulk.
“We get a lot of folks who do canibus medicated lotions and oils,” McCarty said. “With it becoming legal, people are running more businesses and really helping people who are in pain, we’re glad to see that business growing.”
While everyone else was noticing a decline in business as the economy slid into the recession, Zenith was still going strong. McCarty thinks that has to do with an increased interest in making things from scratch.
“It seems like there’s an increased interest in sort of moving away from pre-made stuff and experimenting with personalizing it yourself,” McCarty said.
There is also an interest in moving away from products with harsh chemicals, she said.
“A lot of it has to do with shelf life,” she said. “So if things are made in really large batches — just so that it stays consistently good on the shelf — there’s a lot of really creepy preservatives that just go into making sure it stays good.”
This is especially a problem for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions, like eczema, McCarty said. Many times, people with these problems don’t necessarily want to make their own lotions and body products, but they do out of necessity.
One of the big draws to Zenith for local crafters are the DIY supplies for body care, soaps, and candle making. The products are sold in bulk, which means the more customers buy, the cheaper the product gets. Many local DIY companies buy their products from Zenith.
The store has a website, but it is more for information, McCarty said.
I would love to get one of these cute containers filled with handmade body care products as a gift. They’re so cute.
“We’re a brick-and-mortar-based not web-based,” she said.
The competition with the online world has been one of the stores biggest struggles.
They try to fight the competition of inexpensive products online by trying to ensure their products like their essential oils are totally pure. Even though they can’t compete with the online prices, they do try to keep their products inexpensive, McCarty said, but it is the in-store experience that really is their selling point.
“[It’s about] being able to talk to a human being, smell the stuff, try it out, buy a small amount, all of our packaging and bottling options,” she said. “A lot of people just get really inspired coming in here.”
Despite the new online competition, McCarty said new interest in DIY and more people training in massage therapy has kept the business successful.
In the beginning, Griffis worked hard to establish a solid customer base, and that’s something they still work on. McCarty said they hope the personal experience will keep customers coming back instead of switching to online shopping.
Zenith has been at it’s current location for 20 years. What was once an old bank, has been turned into an open shopping space, with art-deco molding running along the tops of the walls and egyptian style paintings throughout the store.
This is a good area for a store like Zenith, according to McCarty. There are a lot of new-age shops and craft stores around so the shop fits in with it’s neighbors.
The employees do not work on commission. McCarty said it is better that they don’t work in a sales driven environment because each employee works with the products they sell and they can help customers with their product knowledge.
Liz McCarty has worked for Zenith for the past four years.
McCarty, who calls herself a ‘perfume nerd,’ has been creating body care products for about 10 years for her friends and family.
“We’re actually here as a resource for people,” she said. “I think that’s what really drew me to work here, I like working for a company that has heart and is making a difference for folks.”
In a world of ‘big box stores’ McCarty said their success is a testament to the store.
“They’re putting in a light rail, they’re putting in condos right behind us,” she said. “But we’re not going anywhere.”