|BOARD OF DIRECTORS: 41st Annual Meeting|
Random is a good word. I hear it used quite a lot in an off-hand sort of way. I especially like it in the phrase “random acts of kindness.” However, at the recent BFC Annual meeting held at Scott Farm on Sunday, November 13th, the word “intentional” is what comes to mind – deliberate, planned, purposeful.
It was obvious to anyone in attendance that the words shared by those who presented were not random. Beth Neher, our Board president, spoke from the heart when she expressed immense gratitude for Co-op staff and our new, although very-well-initiated General Manager, Sabine Rhyne, who have weathered a year of change, commitment, and transformation. Beth acknowledged and thanked the Shareholder Forum, which although recently disbanded, was a valuable addition to the community and truly influenced the work of the Board. Beth publicly honored out-going Board members, Bob Lyons and Harriet Tepfer for their combined 17 years of contribution to the Co-op Board of Directors.
Intentional leadership and the ability to hold onto long-term goals as well as immediate details is what came through clearly in Sabine Rhyne’s general manager’s report to shareholders. In her uncanny way of embracing—in that hard-love-sort-of-way, with a ready laugh and bright sparkly eyes—Sabine acknowledged the last year as a rough one. It was a year with difficult decisions about staffing levels and a time of introducing new initiatives—staff training, waste reduction, etc. She thanked the management team, staff, board members, and shareholder lenders for their patience and also everyone who shops at the Co-op for noticing the hard work, not just the ever-present parking lot issues. “Happy shoppers reinvigorate us,” she shared. “Come early and often: shop your co-op!” And she invited shareholders to help change perceptions: “You have to be a member to shop,” or “only well-off granola lovers shop at the co-op.” Price perception is another perception Sabine brought up. She encouraged shareholders to notice the large quantity and variety of affordable options while at the same time to have confidence in department managers who are doing regular price comparisons to inform their buying decisions.
Board Treasurer John Hatton, reported on fiscal year 2016 (July 2015 – June 2016). Sales growth has slowed but continues to improve. Increased competition and a slower economy are to blame. Our buyers work hard to have a healthy margin while still being competitive. New data suggests we are looking better than our competition for a lot of products. We have been reducing our operational expenses.
After a delicious brunch, prepared and served by friendly and hard-working Co-op staff, we all gathered at the outside picnic tables under the unseasonably warm November sun for a World Café conversation. Add “open” and “supportive” to the word intentional and you’ll be picturing the collaborative dialogue and knowledge-sharing of this engaging activity.
“A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of ideas.”
Last year’s Annual Meeting themes focused on affordability as well as engagement. This year we dug deeper into what “ownership” and “loyalty” mean.
1) How do I own my Co-op? What does being an owner mean?
2) How is loyalty important? What does it look like for our co-op?
3) As a co-op, how are we involved with our community? By "co-op" we mean shareholders, staff, management, and community members.
Here is a glimpse of some thoughts from the trio of dialogs at my particular table. What does being an owner mean? It means I care more, I engage more, I expect more of the store and of myself. That I am an owner of the store where I do much of my grocery shopping changes my language. I ask “do we carry this and such product” rather than asking if the store carries it. It makes me more than just a consumer. I’m doing more than buying organic carrots or bulk flour, I’m building the community I want to see. I’m “shopping” my values.
Loyalty means I stick by the Co-op. It means I’ll keep asking the hard questions, expect a response and listen to the answers. It means I’ll stay engaged and weather the hard times. It means I’ll pay a little more when I can because I know my dollar is staying right here in my community and supporting over 160 good employees in my town. Loyalty means I remind myself of what lies behind the Co-op and try to build awareness of what it means to be a cooperative.
We discovered that involvement in our community comes in lots of different ways – all the organizations the Co-op staff, management and shareholders engage with AND that we are a downtown anchor that welcomes all shoppers, employs over 160 people, and keeps our money local. See sidebar for the all the community organizations that we touch.
If you didn’t attend, maybe it was just a random reason why you didn’t end up at the Co-op’s Annual Meeting on that sunny Sunday in November. We hope you’ll consider it next year!
Comments/Questions: Topics of questions, and responses from our Annual Meeting included the following:
Two shareholders expressed concern about the relatively small attendance at this meeting and preponderance of attendees over age 50.
A shareholder praised the Food for Thought newsletter for its positive tone and excellent coverage of what is happening at the Co-op.
A shareholder stated that there are glitches in having WIC-approved items scan properly at the register.
A shareholder observed that the tone of this meeting has been positive and supportive, in contrast to some meetings in the past that have been angry.
Question: What is the difference between operating profit and net income? A: The former is sales minus the cost of goods sold and routine business expenses. The net income is operating profit, minus our debt service. Our operating profit is doing very well. We have to make enough money to service the debt, and we’re whittling away at that - that’s why net income is still a negative number.
Question: what is “other income”? A: It represents dividends from ownership in other co-ops, money in bottle returns, and vendor credits.
Dottie’s financial performance (recent improvements but overall struggling) and how product is selected and priced there were discussed. Note: Dottie’s does not offer Senior discounts.
What is the situation with paper bags at the registers? Answer: we currently spend $1,200 per month on paper bags. As of 1/1/17, we’ll either give you a nickel or bean per bag you bring in, or charge you five cents per bag you need. We’ll be looking at changes to bags in produce and rethinking how Bulk items are packaged.
Will we be putting in a corral for shopping carts? A: not now. We need the space for parking spots, and we want to maintain and encourage our culture of helping one another bring back carts from the lot. Please do not hesitate to ask for help from baggers or front end staff to assist with your cart.
What is the sales goal target for FY17? A: we are aiming for 5% sales growth. It’s aggressive. We’re currently falling behind but we’re catching up. Sabine believes that we'll be on track for that target by the end of this quarter. The re-set and future re-sets make things easier to find/purchase which will help. There has been a 7-20% increase in grocery sales since the reset.
Several shareholders encouraged one another to use gift cards to save the Co-op on transaction fees.
List of organizations we are directly involved with plus those we donate to…..in no particular order. For further information on our community partners please read our 2015-2016 Annual Report.
Ground Works Collaborative
Project Feed the Thousands
Brattleboro Overflow Shelter
Brattleboro Area Middle School
Brattleboro Union High School
Hinsdale High School
Carry Me Home
VT Food Bank
Black Mtn Assisted Living
The Gathering Place
Downtown Brattleboro Alliance
The Bowers Fund
WTSA, WKVT, WRSI
Green Mountain Camp for Girls
Center for Health and Learning
The Inclusion Center
It Takes a Village
So VT Therapeutic Riding Center
Brattleboro Time Trade
Friends of Wardsboro Library
Loaves and Fishes
Load the Latchis
Brattleboro Community Meal
Strolling of the Heifers
Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center
VT Association for Blind and Visually Impaired
The In-Sight Photogaphy Project, Inc.