|GM Report: Our Place in the World|
by Sabine Rhyne, General Manager
Our managers just completed extensive work on the annual business plan, and we are now embarking on a new budget year. Obviously planning is largely about assessing and looking forward, and yet, we are ever so impacted by the path that has brought us here. We have learned a lot about our store and where it fits in our community over the last few years. We’ve been working very hard recently to improve our store, short of capital-intense solutions that we know will significantly improve our shopping experience. We just had an occasion to show it off to many cooperators from around the country who were in Western Massachusetts for a conference, and a week later I hosted several of my peers from the region for a daylong meeting. These opportunities enable us to see ourselves through others’ eyes. Inevitably, we get positive feedback that we cannot usually identify on our own.
The three areas that we focused on in our planning process this year were pricing, enhancing and deepening local relationships, and staff training and development. This is basically an iteration of the three-legged stool that we struggle to keep in balance: the best value for our customers, the best return for our local farmers and producers, and the best workplace for our staff.
Many people assume that our store is expensive. They do so because the store is new, because it has higher priced, high-quality foods on the shelves, and because co-ops are just believed to be expensive. Or so goes the conventional wisdom. But many of the people who assume these things (and some of them even work here!) have not looked at the shelves lately. There are many lower-priced values on those shelves, more and more every week and in every category: Co-op Basics, aggressive special pricing, and local produce hitting its seasonal stride. You won’t find many cheap items with empty calories, but instead there are better value items with more nutrition side by side. And have you eaten in our Deli lately? Amazing high-quality, good-tasting food, for lots less than any other sit-down alternative.
Our local famers and producers are our partners. They depend on us to showcase their products. In many cases, they start with us, and go from there. We coach and cajole them with some business practices for the less experienced, and support our featured producers with unparalleled marketing programs. We help them build their market. And they support us by responding to our logistical requests, by becoming part of the fold of local farms and products that shoppers build allegiance to seven days a week, not just on market day.
The people who work in our Co-op are a precious resource. Most of them believe in our Co-op as more than just a place to clock in and make a weekly paycheck. Most of them are delighted with their cohorts, have favorite food items throughout the store, and deep, long-standing relationships with customers. We try to pay fair wages and run our business in a way that is predictable and consistent. And we want to make available not just additional training in job-specific areas but also financial information, cooperative business models, and a multitude of learning options available in our own community room. We also try to be there for them when things are rough, and to celebrate the successes and new arrivals as any small community would.
So, this fiscal year, we will continue to work on these priorities, and a few others besides. You can do your part by shopping often, bringing your friends and family in to experience our store with you, and telling our Co-op story whenever you can. There are few businesses in our region that touch as many lives as positively as your very own Co-op. There is virtually nowhere, other than another co-op, where your grocery dollars make such a difference right where you can see it. Thank you for your patronage!