Will GNC Survive 2019?

by Matt Weik

I remember back when I was a young man going into the local GNC store and buying various products that were recommended to me by the store clerk. I’d go home with high hopes of seeing THE GAINZ only to be disappointed that the products didn’t work. I then would go back and say I need something “better” than what they recommended last time. I’d once again leave with a bag full of goodies and the scenario would replay over and over again. The only thing that seemed to be changing was the fact that my wallet was getting thinner.

Once I got into the supplement industry, I would go to various stores to in a sense “test” their sales associates and see exactly what they recommended, why they recommended them, and if they actually understood the benefits and features associated with the product and its ingredients. Boy, was I surprised with my findings!

Look, this article is probably going to ruffle some feathers of people who work or have worked at GNC and I’m sure GNC, themselves, are not going to be fans of it. I’m ok with that as it’s my opinion and my firsthand experience, so it’s hard to tell me otherwise when I’ve been there to obtain my personal thoughts and opinions.

A Decline in Sales

GNC has not been doing well for quite some time now and has been trying to rebrand their business and make it more appealing for the consumer but in my opinion it’s a little too late. People are shopping elsewhere, especially online, and no one, for the most part, is interested in going to their retail locations unless it’s the only supplement store in their town.

The company has been closing store after store in an effort to stay afloat. The Pittsburgh-based company, again, in my opinion, will not see it past 2019 and if it does, their stores will continue to shrink until they exit. A similar situation is going on with The Vitamin Shoppe and their lack of performance.

Uneducated Sales Associates

When I worked for a supplement company, I traveled all over the US and while GNC was not my account, I’d pop into locations if I saw them in my travels to see what the store was doing and to gain more insight to form my opinion of the brand. It’s sad to say that GNC does not hire the right people to help grow their business. I understand that those who have a background in nutrition or chemistry will more times than not, not be applying to a GNC based on their knowledge and how little they would be paid by GNC. BUT, I blame GNC for not trying to educate their sales associates. To put it politely, many have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

To someone who doesn’t know any better, uneducated clerks could BS their way through a sale and have someone walking out with a bag in each hand. However, to anyone who knows even the slightest bit about supplements would know these people have no clue what they are talking about. It’s as if they are reading off of a script and I’ve noticed from going to various locations that they all push the exact same products in the exact same order. Interesting, right? It shouldn’t be.

Sell What Makes You the Most Commission/Margin Method

The further I dug into this GNC mess, the more I found out about the business. Especially from friends who have worked at GNC. Managers are told from the top down that they are to focus on certain products that will make the company the most money. Makes sense, but you would need to know how to sell and a little bit about all of the products to bait and switch the consumer from walking in and grabbing their personal favorite brands.

When talking to some of the people in GNC locations, I would ask them why they were pushing me towards a certain product. They would all seem to spit out a rehearsed list of broscience facts thinking they have me hooked. I’d ask them why I shouldn’t consider a competitor’s product that had a better profile and was less expensive with more servings (the product my supplement company produced). They would bash the product and say it’s junk and no one buys it. Kind of funny looking back.

I’d eventually disclose that I work in the supplement industry for a brand they sell and would ask them point blank what their deal was as I was going to report back my findings that the GNC location was badmouthing our product line (at the time we were pulling products off GNC shelves due to their lack of support). They would then disclose that they are told what products to push based on what would have the store profit the most by selling high-margin items as well as what brands incentivized them and paid them higher commissions on the sale of their brand. The truth finally came out.

2019 Could Be the End for GNC

As I mentioned earlier, no one is really shopping in GNC locations anymore – hence why they keep closing stores. Rite Aid is having issues and who knows if their merger will continue to allow the partnership with GNC to be present in their stores. E-commerce is crushing brick and mortar locations and that, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to ever be changing based on buyers’ preferences.

GNC sat back way too long thinking they were the gorilla in the room and rather than changing with the times and making the necessary changes, they stayed seated with their feet up on their desks. Now, things have come to bite them in the butt.

The death of GNC is near. And those who own franchises (if you’re actually profiting) should think about attempting to outright purchase the location and rebrand it to a totally new name and build a community within your business for people to come in and learn about supplements and how to properly use them. And hire educated individuals or at least help give the sales associates some knowledge and tools so they can speak intelligently on various products and give people options rather than pushing the same products day in and day out.

Everyone has individual wants and needs and when you push something down their throat that they don’t need or won’t work, you’ll have yolk on your face and potentially lose the customer forever – just like GNC is currently seeing.