A Letter from the Co-op General Manager
To our cooperative community,
Each month, I write a report for our Board of Directors that provides a brief, but detailed, analysis and evaluation of the Co-op’s operations. I have grown up in an industry that demanded transparency and trust, so it is important to me to be transparent and to keep our members fully up to date. As a result, I would like to share an overview of that information with you, too.
As I wrote to the Board earlier this week, rhetorically, my monthly communication and counsel is informed by two questions–e.g., what are the current challenges facing the Co-op, and how are we responding to those challenges? The first question is somewhat self-evident, since I believe everyone is well aware of what the business is up against these days. The second question has been the subject of nearly 200 pages worth of blog posts and email updates from me to Co-op members and employees over the past several weeks.
To say the least, clearly the retail landscape has changed considerably in a short amount of time. For our cooperative, the outbreak of COVID-19 has led to new hours, the implementation of extensive social-distancing measures, and a fundamental change to the delivery of some of our products and services—such as the rapid-but-measured launch of curbside pickup in multiple locations and a new online ordering system for curbside customers. Despite the challenges, I want our members to know that our collectively owned business remains strong in many key areas. Here are some specifics that may interest you:
Changes in Shopping Behavior. We are not seeing the volume of customers we are used to, but our shoppers are purchasing more. This is good. This means customers are doing what we have asked, planning out their shopping carefully and reducing the number of trips to the stores. Additionally, we have made online shopping with curbside pickup a strategic initiative for customers. As of this writing you can select from over 500 items and pick up at either the Hanover or Lebanon store. The Community Market and White River Junction stores are preparing themselves for this service too.
Engagement. For the past few years, we have put a heavy emphasis on member engagement–i.e., offering events and programs that give us opportunities to interact with the people who own the business. For obvious reasons, we expect a dip in engagement in 2020; however, there have been some surprise increases in our programs due to the delivery of creative new formats. We hope to see this trend continue with the launch of Co-op Classes online this month.
Benefits. We have provided extensive new benefits to Co-op employees, including raises, discretionary bonuses, a new paid leave program, and relaxed rules around returning to work and requiring medical notes and increased demand for telecommuting. As of this writing, a discretionary bonus has been paid in every pay period, except one, between March and the present time.
Products. Our product mix has changed, but the philosophy behind it remains the same. We are here to make sure our members have what they need, which means that for now, we remain focused on sourcing critical products that our customers require during the pandemic. These items include paper products and household supplies, pantry items such as canned goods and flour, and fresh dairy and meat items.
Local Partnerships. As I wrote in my member message last week, the commodity beef and pork markets have experienced intensive product shortages and price increases. Many grocery stores are limiting purchases for their customers as they run out of product. Thanks to our local partnerships, we currently have a strong supply of local beef and pork available to our customers and an opportunity to support local farms during a difficult time economically.
Quality. In spite of the pandemic, life goes on. People are home, cooking more, and expecting quality food. We continue to strive to offer the highest possible quality meat, seafood, and fresh produce in our market area.
Clearly all of our benchmarks for success have been made more challenging due to COVID-19, but given that our business provides an essential service, as an organization we have been able to weather the storm. The effectiveness of that response lies in the strength of our employees, who have met the challenges with grace, tenacity, and professionalism. Thus, ultimately, what the outbreak of the virus has not done is to create a fundamental change in who we are as an organization. If anything, our commitment to the cooperative movement and to caring for the communities we serve may be more entrenched in the culture than ever before.
To all of our members, thank you for your support, be well, and be safe. We look forward to serving you in the stores or at the curbside.
Onwards and upwards,