An update from the Co-op General Manager
Having the responsibility to help feed a community sounds simple. In truth, it is a daunting task. There are a myriad of things that could go wrong, even without a pandemic to contend with. In times of intense stress as now, having a clear vision of who you are, what you want to do, and how you want to get it done is critical.
Our Co-op’s Role in the COVID-19 Crisis
We are the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society, Inc (Co-op). We feed the community, we provide competitive salaries and benefits to our employees, we support local businesses through our purchases, and we support the environment. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of employee care, business ethics and concern for our partners. Why do we do this? Because, we are a pillar of the community.
This crisis has rocked all businesses. Although some can practice social distancing, ours is not a business where our employees, or our suppliers, can work from home. Our employees are on the front line of servicing the community and put themselves at some risk to do so. Our employees are top-notch professionals who despite the risk to themselves show up day in and day out to do a tough job.
Protecting the Safety of Our Employees
Why is ours a complex and difficult business? When supply chains are interrupted, our merchandising team must scramble to find alternative suppliers without sacrificing quality. When one of our principle suppliers could not honor our orders, they found suppliers and despite the prospect of increased cost to the Co-op, we held our prices firm. We were not going to be a profiteer in a horrible situation. My message to the team was I am not interested in a one-night stand. If these suppliers are willing to help us in our time of need, then we will stand by them – let us build a long-term strategic relationship.
If our employees are not safe, we have no business—there is no Co-op—short and simple.
Our employees who are in close proximity to shoppers cannot practice social distancing. Not everyone follows CDC, WHO or NIH guidelines when they conduct their everyday business, even in this crisis. I spent close to four decades in an industry where the mantra was ‘our most important assets go up and down every night in the elevator’. Well, we do not have elevators. We have checkout lines, tight spaces, aisles, and slippery surfaces. And, that’s where our most important ‘assets’ work. To protect our employees who serve the community, we have installed Plexiglas shields, increased and intensified our daily cleaning, shortened hours to allow more time for employees to destress. If our employees are not safe, we have no business – there is no Co-op – short and simple.
Protecting the Safety of Our Shoppers
The health and welfare of our member and non-member shoppers are equally important to us. We have dedicated hours for those who meet the CDC definition of high risk as well as those first responders who are called upon to look after our higher risk neighbors. We view it as a moral obligation to help look after those who need assistance, to help one another and to accept help when needed. That is after all, the Co-op way.
Curbside Pickup and Other Options
I am asked by many about other service options in this period of stress, such as curbside pickup. This service is one of those that is simple in concept but there is a lot that happens behind the scenes. There are many criteria required to make such a program both sustainable and successful. As one can imagine, having food in the store to offer is paramount, hence the focus on sorting out our supply chain. In addition, other key areas that require detailed analysis are: a) the flow of traffic in and out of the parking lot so people and property are not inadvertently hurt or damaged; b) having adequate groups of employees to pull orders; c) do we limit order sizes to avoid excessive pre-buying so other community members have access to food; d) methods of payment; e) staging areas for the order picked; f) order management systems so the community can order food, and so forth.
The details can be and are daunting. That said, it is not a question of if we will bring the service to the community but rather when. My commitment to the leadership team and our community is that the Co-op will not roll out a new service if we cannot live up to the standards the community has come to expect from the Co-op. There are still the proverbial i’s and t’s to dot and cross. To that end, we are getting close.
Sustaining Our Business
The retail food industry, Co-op’s in particular, are not high margin, money-making machines. Co-op’s are not an investment destination for 401k money. They are community-owned organizations with a defined purpose to serve that community. The sustainable return on investment to its owners comes in the form of a stable food supply, locally sourced product so quality can be assured, fairly priced for the effort to bring product to market and a congenial place to shop. The sustainable return on investment to Co-op employees is – Thank you! – from the community.
Paul C Guidone, CFA
Interim General Manager