The Hillsman family has brought natural and healthy products into Rutherford County for over two decades now.
Sunshine Nutrition Center owners Kenneth and Ruby Hillsman have moved to West Tennessee—Kenneth got the opportunity to pastor his home church in Huntingdon—but their daughter, Kim; Kenneth’s brother, Terrance; and other family members and employees continue operating the stores in Murfreesboro and Smyrna.
There’s been a surge in popularity in recent years in the organic and health supplement field; along with that, though, comes the corporate business model that is able to duplicate the same type of store in multiple markets.
“With the industry the way it is now, it’s more favorable for the Walmart set-up,” Kim says. “You see Whole Foods drive out a lot of the mom and pop stores. There was talk of them coming here a few years ago, but I’ve not heard any news lately.
“And on the whole, it’s not necessarily less expensive to shop there,” she continues. “We’re constantly trying to offer more in the bulk bins.”
Even though the Sunshine Nutrition Centers, located on Church Street (just off of Broad Street) in Murfreesboro and Lowry Street in Smyrna, may look small in passing, many who stop in are surprised at the amount of different products on the shelves, Kim says.
In addition to hundreds of herbs, vitamins and extracts, Sunshine carries natural pet food, fresh produce, shampoo and personal care items, local honey, bulk quinoa and flour, cold juice and hot soup and more.
As if operating the stores wasn’t enough, Kim also leads a Zumba group class at the MAC (4:30 p.m. on Sundays) and is completing her master’s degree at MTSU in exercise science and health.
But even though the hours are long and keeping a business afloat is a never-ending task, she says she ultimately enjoys and appreciates the opportunity to work in the family business.
“Once you’ve been out in the real world and see what working for other people is like, you want to work for your family and yourself and call your own shots,” she says.
Murfreesboro Pulse: How did you get into the health food/nutrition business?
Kim Hillsman: My parents got into it the ’80s, my mom was (and still is) a registered nurse. Papaya juice and aloe vera juice helped her ulcers, and she got interested in natural remedies. They ended up purchasing Sunshine in 1989 (it was actually started in the ’60s). It was on the Square at that time.
We opened the Smyrna store in August of 1991.
In November of 2006 we moved to current location on Church Street.
My parents are still active in the store, but now they live 2 1/2 hours away.
My mom was very involved in getting the deli going; the chicken salad recipe was hers.
My dad still operates the store financially; he actually comes here twice a week.
MP: What challenges have you overcome in starting and growing your business?
KH: It seems the challenges are different every five years. In the late ’80s, you couldn’t find anything organic in the grocery store; you couldn’t find any vitamin other than Centrum in a large store. So we were kind of an oddball then.
In the mid ’90s that changed. You saw more stores, and we had to compete with those stores and let people know what we offer is the cream of the crop
In the last five years, there’s been a lot of competition on the internet.
Now, they’ve dumbed down some of the organic standards; as a retailer you have to do a lot of research now to make sure what you’re selling is actually healthy.
MP: What businesses/people were an inspiration for you?
KH: Initially, there weren’t really a lot of options out there. There were a few stores in Nashville that have since closed or been bought out that my parents were very fond of.
I personally go to a lot of trade shows; they are a big source of ideas for the store. Even if I can bring back one or two new things to carry in the store, it’s worth going to these shows.
You really just have to mold it to what the customer demands. It’s all about what they want.
MP: What’s your favorite part of running your business?
KH: Having people come back and giving testimonials, saying “my blood pressure has come down,” “my cholesterol has come down,” “I lost 15 pounds.” That’s what makes the hard work and the long hours worth it.
We know a lot of people by their first name. There’s a personalization you can bring to the table that larger stores can’t offer.
MP: What’s your least favorite part?
KH: Definitely the long hours. My intention when I moved back in 2005 was to have a five-day work week. That’s never going to happen. I work seven days. Even though we’re closed on Sunday, I’m working; sometimes I feel guilty about only putting in 3-4 hours on Sundays.
You’ll run yourself into the ground running your own business
MP: Who are your customers?
KH: A little bit of everybody. We get moms, we get the older crowd, we get students, businessmen.
MP: What is your advice to someone starting a business?
KH: Do what it is that you like doing. Don’t pick a business because you think you can make money at it. You will eventually get tired of it. You have to have a passion for it.
Even when I was young, I was ringing people up in the store, and I thought it was really cool. I liked being in the store.
MP: How are you reaching out to new customers?
KH: We work on referrals a lot. The Pulse and WGNS are the only regular places we advertise.
For more information on Sunshine Nutrition Center, drop in 621 S. Church St. or 236 N. Lowry St. or call (615) 896-2972 or (615) 355-6890.