by Alex Gyori
Redevelopment project activity, our obsession for quite a few years, is largely in the history books, with the first year in the new facility wrapped up this past June. Some insights into financial condition, staff morale, and plans for the coming year will tell the tale of the state of the Co-op today, in mid-2013.
If you’ve been a dedicated reader of my regular newsletter columns, you’ll know that the disruptions caused by the implosion of the general contractor’s firm in the latter half of the construction project did not facilitate a smooth launch of the new Co-op operations.
Store amenities in a number of areas had not reached full completion by the time we needed to open, the impact of which was felt throughout the Co-op. Staff, shareholders, and customers alike, though happy to be in the new building, experienced inconveniences that kept everyone just a bit off kilter.
Putting the final touches on the project has continued to be a challenge, as the bond company that took over the project from the general contractor found itself confronted with sorting out myriad confusing details, not unsurprising given the complexity of the undertaking, but bothersome and frustrating nonetheless. We have yet to finish the contractual landscaping—the weeds are in weed heaven out there—and repairs to the Whetstone Brook pathway, to the expressed chagrin of the Town of Brattleboro’s leaders, are yet to be done. Progress has been made, but the lack of final resolution is disconcerting as well as hard on the bank account. Lawyers, project managers and the clerk of the works continue to put in their needed but costly time. The end is nigh but not yet in full view.
Over and above the issues connected to the construction project, the Co-op has been faced with other challenges that have affected general morale, starting with the tragic event of August two years ago. We have largely made peace with it, but its impact will be part of who we are forever.
Management and non-management issues that surfaced since that time are being addressed. Happily, morale is rebounding, partly due to the recent implementation of the Open Book Management system (see July newsletter). Positive changes are evident from the customer service point of view—shareholders and shoppers have noticed and are telling us so.
The long-awaited growth in sales volume is occurring, as well. After the initial opening in mid-June of 2012, the first quarter did meet expectations, as financial projections had allowed for the continued inconvenience of the last phase of construction, the new parking area. What did not materialize was the anticipated improvement in sales volume after the grand opening in November. The slow pace of growth coupled with the ongoing kerfuffle vis-à-vis construction wrap-up depleted our cash reserves, and forced substantial expense cuts, including labor, and a number of characteristic operating expenses. We are now slowly but surely strengthening our financial condition through increased sales and through holding the line on the cuts that commenced last January.
Planning for Success
At its July meeting, the Board of Directors reviewed management’s Annual Business Plan for the coming year. It was not a sugar-coated read, as it contained a sensible, realistic assessment of what needs to be done, including virtually every challenging issue, not the least of which is the growing competitive environment. Healthy, wholesome foods are being sought by a larger number of people, and more private purveyors have recognized this fact and are actively engaged in taking advantage of it. In recent newsletter articles, I have commented on how the ramped up competitive scene translates, in dollars and cents. Although co-ops celebrate the fact that more people are eating wholesome, fresh foods, the temptations the giant companies can conjure up draw core co-op shoppers in their direction. Our job is to make sure we persist in providing the value our shareholders expect. This task is not particularly a new one, but it clearly tops the list at this time.
The foregoing comments are not by any means a thorough treatment of issues. Yet I could distill where we are at in just a few words: the positive energy and spirit that has always characterized our BFC family and surmounted all obstacles has clearly re-emerged.
It sure does feel good.
We will have lots more to say at the annual meeting in
November. Plan to join us then!