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News on our move and Annual Membership Meeting

Are you wondering if the Co-op is going to move?
Are you wondering what it would take for the Co-op to be able to move?
Read on.

We are bursting at the seams in our little store and are looking at options for expansion! Our Co-op is at a crossroads and we need to decide what we want it to look like in the future. There are a number of questions before us that will be presented for a vote at our Annual Membership Meeting. The meeting will be held at 6:00 Wednesday, June 23 at the Earth Box Conference Center. At that meeting we will vote on the changes detailed here. In the mean time, the purpose of this letter is to open a discussion about the subjects that will be voted on. These subjects include moving to a larger store and contemplating what a system of volunteer staffing would look like for our Co-op. Please take some time to read through the following proposals and then offer your feedback.

Overview

Imagine a new, larger store with more selection and room for more than three people to shop at once! While this vision is certainly exciting, it does bring with it some challenges. A new, larger store will have a larger variety of goods, more shoppers and more visibility in our community. We have been relying on the self-service honor system as our membership has grown, and though it has its weaknesses, it has been working. As our membership and sales continue to increase however, the problems associated with self-serve access 24 hours per day, 7 days per week will begin to become overwhelming. When that happens, we will have to transition to staffing with regular store hours. In order to maintain the great prices and the community feel that we all enjoy, Co-op members will have to volunteer to cover the shifts in order to keep the store open. This model of “working member” staffing has worked for many other Co-ops and could work here if we as a community want it to.

The Decisions We Face

There are two issues before us that will be decided at our Membership Meeting next month. The first issue is the location of our store. The Membership Survey from February indicated clearly that the majority wants a move to a larger store. Given that, a number of sites will presented as viable options for relocation. The second issue before us is how to reconcile the popularity of the self-serve 24/7 access with the pitfalls associated with it. In short, at what point does the self-serve honor system begin to break down and necessitate a system based on a staffed store with set open hours?

While these two issues at first appear separate, they are actually quite related. The potential relocation sites that have been identified around town each have qualities to them that suggest either the 24/7 self serve system as an option or seem to dictate full staffing as the most appropriate choice. Consider the following three models of a SJI Food Co-op store.

1.No change. We maintain our current small store in its less visible, out of the way location in Surina Business Park. People will continue to discover the Co-op by word of mouth. The self-serve honor system could be maintained as it is as long as possible. The space, while crowded, is functional, but at some point it will become unworkable. Some say we are there now. As sales continue to increase and more people find us, it will become harder to reconcile the books and keep track of inventory. Shopping will just become more crowded. A move will have to be considered again at a later date.
2.Larger space/no institutional change. A move to a larger space in a less visible location could allow us to increase our inventory selection while still maintaining the self-serve honor system with 24/7 access. There is a space in Surina Business Park/Starr Storage that would be available to us. It would amount to a doubling of our size with minimal remodeling costs. As long as the self-serve honor system continued to function, this move would require minimal structural change to our organization and could prove to be viable for many months or even a few years. At some point, however, the honor system would probably break down and staffing would be required.
3.Larger space/staffed store. A move now to a high profile space would result in increased visibility for the Co-op. The building on Mullis St. that houses the Bakery San Juan has a suitable space in it, for example. A site like this would likely result in an increase in traffic, an increase in membership and an increase in sales. The variety and selection of what we have to offer could dramatically increase. Such a site could result in a one-stop-shop type of grocery in the near future, however would probably dictate a change from self-serve, 24/7 to regular store hours staffed by volunteers. This would require an institutional change to our Co-op with the adoption of a volunteer incentive program to increase the level of volunteering by our members. As stated earlier, other Co-ops have incentive programs and cover much of their staffing with volunteers. This is an option for us if we decide to do it.

Volunteer Incentive Program

So, what would the volunteer incentive program look like? There are many models out there and your Board of Directors discussed them at length. The program they would like you to consider is as follows:
Part A
1.A working member who volunteers 10 hours per month qualifies for a 5% discount on all purchases.
2.A working member who volunteers 20 hours per month qualifies for a 10% discount on all purchases.
Part B
Any working member who volunteers 100 hours in a year or donates $100 continues to have 24/7, self-serve access to the Co-op.

This incentive program is part of the institutional change that we would need to make in order to have a staffed store. An increase in volunteering is the other part. Staffing is an issue that most likely must be addressed sooner or later. In order to address it, there are two choices: prices must be increased dramatically to cover labor costs or the members must take up the shifts. Many Co-ops operate with the assumption of some volunteer commitment by each of its members.

What level of volunteering would the average member need to consider in order to cover staffing?
For the store to be open about 35 hours per week, volunteers would have to cover about 50 three-hour shifts per month. We currently have over 230 membership households. If 22% of the membership households volunteered for one three-hour shift per month, those open hours would be covered. Any member who wished to be even more involved with their Co-op could qualify for a discount on their groceries and continued 24/7 access.

What is next?

At the Membership Meeting on June 23, a ballot will be presented with a choice of three sites around Friday Harbor for the relocation of the Food Co-op. The site that receives the most votes will be the Co-op’s new home. Each site will be vetted by the board and proposed as a viable option. Each site will be presented with a description including its details, advantages, disadvantages, size and price. Also included will be the best available estimate on remodeling costs. Each of these sites will be open for the membership to tour in the week prior to the vote. In addition to the three sites, an option for not moving at this time will be included.

In addition to the choice on location, the ballot will present the volunteer incentive program. The vote will be yes or no to accept or reject it.

Feedback

This is where you come in. Your opinions are needed to shape the details of this proposal. Changes can be made to reflect the wishes of the membership as a whole. What is you opinion of the plan as it is presented here? What do you think of the volunteer incentive program? Do you think the discounts are generous enough to motivate members to volunteer? Would they motivate you? What do you think of the proposal to maintain some 24/7 access? Do you have a recommendation of a site for the new store? Any comments you have may be sent by email. You may call Board member Arvid Lindstrum or you can drop off written comments at the Co-op in the membership box.

Please have all comments in by June 16.

Thanks for your involvement in the Co-op and see you at the meeting.