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Charted out Feedback from Member Meeting 2/5/2019

On February 5th we held a special member meeting at the co-op. We had a great turnout (30 members plus operational staff) with a great deal of member feedback. So as not to take away from member discussion, we promised to respond to the feedback through a follow up document. That document is included here and a number of these ideas are already in process of being followed up on operationally. We sincerely thank you for showing up, supporting the cooperative and its staff, and prioritizing shopping with us through the thick and thin of being a small business tackling the difficult work of being a community owned grocery store.

The feedback and response below follows this format:

    Member Suggestions/Ideas/Complaint

           o Operational response

Emphasizing and advertising case purchases, harkens to grocery shopping spirit from which co-ops began, other ways to increase volume buying, pre-purchases of turkeys

          o This is one of the feedback items we will be working on first. We will start by clarifying the existing special   order system among staff and ensuring the procedure with our new grocery manager. It needs to be clarified and retrained among staff. We will likely start with a few special order sales events first to test out our ability to deliver accurately and successfully before we start advertising on a larger scale. (All members may special order anything at any time – ask a cashier or give us a call for details)

Create online and/or physical catalog from which members can create their own special order lists (can NCG or UNFI help)

          o As it relates to above, we are working on the feasibility of this. We are not sure we can get a catalog with pricing information on it, and likely won’t be able to provide a physical one or PDF without pricing info. There is a co-op on the East coast that has a similar program and we will reach out to them for ideas. If we can’t generate one, we will have a plan B that makes it easy for members to acquire info from a staff member!

Make sure to keep tone positive for non-core members in communication of cooperative struggles, give them exciting challenges and other reasons to shop

          o Yes! Agreed! We want to be transparent and positive and it is already a part of our marketing plan this year to focus on member challenges and easy asks to ensure everyone has a within-reach way to support the co-op.

Work on pricing/relationships and find ways for cost of goods savings AND better pricing for customers

          o As was mentioned in the meeting, one of the biggest hindrances to this process over the last year was an unfortunate gap in our grocery manager. We acknowledge and apologize that there are prices not in alignment and we are working to address those immediately. We have a fantastic person newly in place who excels at finding ways to mitigate costs and have made that one of her many priorities. And as a co-op we will certainly pass that savings to our members as often as possible.

          o As an important follow up to the member’s presentation on giving a call to Franz: the information he was given on pricing was not accurate by as much over a dollar per loaf. Franz has been giving us a price as a small co-op well in excess of the number he was given and the person with whom he spoke was not at all familiar with our account, despite representing otherwise. While we are following up and working to address our bread pricing, we want to emphasize that this is work our grocery manager will do now that she is in place.

          o We DO want to hear though when you find certain staple pricing significantly out of line with our competition. Let us know in person, send an email to [email protected], or give us a call. We want to emphasize to please not call vendors yourselves, but let co-op staff know where our pricing is prohibitive for your shopping and managers will look into it and get back to you! There are realities of the grocery game where the smallest guy always gets the worst price from the big companies. We love your help price comparing though and will always try to adjust where we can.

Ask farmers for personal statements/quotes to include in marketing materials (goes to the heart of the cooperative mission and difference), also ask for similar statements from members/tile purchasers

          o Yes! As mentioned, the admin and marketing budget for the store has been one of the most cut over the years. And often even simple marketing ideas can get put on the back burner when financial or operational struggles heat up. But we love this idea and will continue to work on better implementing it – particularly the idea of including farmer quotes and stories in our marketing and newsletter.

          o As a quick peek into why ideas like this can be more intense work than they appear, here are a few things we have to work through on ideas like this:

  •  When we advertise 1 producer, we often hear frustration from other producers that they weren’t featured. So do we reach out to all 100 local vendors or just 10? Can we follow through on a promise to feature the others at a later date?
  •  Drafting that outreach/creating a form, collecting and answering questions.
  • We like to include pictures of local farmers in marketing, and would do so for this example. We have tried to collect local pictures from farmers, but most that we have interacted with are too busy to sort through pictures, or send us low pixel pictures we can’t use in printed/web formats, or send us pictures that aren’t ideal for marketing purposes (i.e. a picture of a nondescript field instead of a close up of their family in front of the farm) We do not have the resources to send out photographers to gather marketing quality shots at this time (a good member volunteer project perhaps!!)
  •  Lots of other tidbits! If it’s a writing piece, writing and editing take time. Gathering waivers of use, formatting and design, and slotting it in to newsletters, website etc. Take time.
  •  We lay these kinds of things out not as excuses, but to let you know that we wish we could do it all and tomorrow! But that all things cooperative take time for a store with fewer resources than any other grocery in town. Unlike many of our competitors we additionally prioritize spending any extra resource on buying as many locally made products as possible, treating our staff as well as we can, and being a place of community for all with initiatives like Round up at the Register and $3 dinner.

Create ways for members to share comparison shopping and pricing (Micki brought up example of members bringing their receipts to turn in to co-op)

          o We also love this idea. As mentioned above there are lots of moving pieces before this work can be seen and experienced by our shoppers, but look for more info on this one in a near future weekly email.

Possibility for member committee to look at relationships for better pricing (how can this be applied to other community relationships as well)

          o As mentioned above, this is not an easy committee idea to move forward. It is important that these sort of jobs remain in the hands of our operational staff for a number of reasons, including federal employment law and best practices of co-ops nationwide. HOWEVER there are other important ways that our members can help us build relationships with our community, and we will be tasking the outreach committee to do that work. You should hear more about that in the near future!

Create member shopper challenges – give members the numbers and shopping challenge we need to be successful

          o Agreed! We will do this on a monthly basis moving forward. Your very first challenge is coming next week!!

Create 1 or more higher quality, higher price point dinner similar to $3

          o We have been discussing this idea for a while. Unfortunately, due to its very high labor costs, our deli department is one of the hardest departments to lean on for new ideas and expansions. The deli is working on formulating a number of ideas in the next couple of years, roughly 1 to 2 big new things per year and this is on the list.

Round up more for coop – mission oriented reasons (accessibility to food initiative, round up for staff bonus)

          o We will bring this back to the table. As was mentioned during the meeting, our cashiering staff felt rather uncomfortable with this idea when brought forward by management and felt that shoppers would be annoyed by the idea. Considering now that it has been proposed by members we will take it back to our front end staff for more discussion.

 Is doing an auto roundup possibility? Similar to opting out of receipt

          o We have opened a ticket with our software company to find out! We will let you know soon.

Send email out with committee interest sign up AND info on what committees are doing

          o DONE. We are waiting for our committees to get their next meeting scheduled and that info will go in the weekly email as soon as the dates are set.

Events! Bring them back, opportunity for member volunteer support, they brought a great energy to the store that has been missing

          o We agree, and will include this topic in our very next manager meeting. We will have some outcomes from there to immediately share with the Outreach committee and look forward to getting your help making events more successful in the future and more sustainable for our staff to create. Our first goal will be one awesome event by or before the mid-year mark.

Work more on staff education and communication (often get bad information from staff), continue to work on customer service and ensure there isn’t a food/grocery elitist attitude w staff

          o We have and will continue to work hard with our staff to improve customer service. Cashiering and customer service is by far the most mentally and emotionally taxing of all the work at the co-op, save perhaps our HR positions. Our front end staff is dedicated and caring, and we will make sure that we improve the information and communications they are receiving.

          o Please also remember that often our cashiers have been on staff the least amount of time of any employee. As we improve our communication protocols, if you are not sure you are getting the best information, please be sure to ask for a manager either in store or by phone: [email protected] is also a great resource for any question.

Education for members on credit card fees, talk about best ways to mitigate fees/gift card drive, make it a regular reminder point for member communication

          o Agreed, we will make this a point of focus in an upcoming weekly newsletter and hold a gift card drive to emphasize the point coming soon!

 Don’t like that you changed a contract on me (signed up as member for 10% discount and you took it away)

          o We understand the frustration here. And we want to emphasize that membership is not a contract, though we understand the idea that the member was trying to communicate. Being that membership is a voluntary undertaking on both sides, we can refund your membership if you can’t live with this change. However, we hope you will give it time as we work to improve membership and operations for everyone. We firmly believe that our new system can work just as well for members as our old discount structure and will work to help membership understand how it works infinitely better for the sustainability of the store. We really felt this decision was the only way to stay open and that it was critical that our membership understand that a co-op is about what we can do for the community and not just the discounts we give to individuals.

          o We would like to emphasize that the co-op will make a profit this year of only 1 cent from every dollar – and only that if we are both lucky (no breakdowns/surprises) and operate better than we ever have before. The member discount costs us 2 cents of every dollar – and cost us more than that before we changed it. At the same time, our old discount was resulting in DECLINING sales growth and DECLINING percentage of sales to members. Those 2 cents are the difference in unfreezing wages of staff that have been frozen since 2017. Those 2 cents mean the difference of making headway on providing health care to staff. Those 2 cents mean being able to fix the store or make progress on having a location in a more residential area with parking. That 2 cents means we can still give WIC/EBT discounts. We feel the larger member conversation should be considering what our true values are as a co-op and whether a discount is more important than staying open for our farmers and staff. We firmly believe there is a balance we can work on together between these values AND providing clear meaningful and improved benefits to our membership.

Carpooling, ways to encourage shoppers to do this?

          o Love this idea, and would love to have more roundtable discussion on ideas, or include it as a weekly newsletter topic? Our internal thinking caps are a little stuck!

Change to equity structure – more or more frequently? Yearly fee?

          o This is underway. We will likely start with more options for a payoff structure that will come about sooner rather than later with lots of explanation. Doing a yearly equity payment IS a model many co-ops have, but will need to be more seriously considered by the board! The discount was tough for many to take, we’re not keen on adding another hard to swallow change for members just yet!

Resource for members to help onboard others to join or shop more at co-op (talking points, facts to share and encourage)

          o We are working on something we can share with members on how to talk to your friends about the co-op – how to encourage them to join or shop more often – that we will share soon.

          o We would love to see a volunteer task force come out of our engagement committee of members that help reach out to shoppers in store and members of our larger community to get them to support the co-op more or gather feedback for us to improve shopping experience.

In what ways can member effort/volunteering bolster labor/admin shortage

          o This was the primary question we wanted to answer in creating our board committees. As was mentioned in the meeting, we are bound by federal employment law in having volunteers do certain jobs for the store. However, joining a committee or volunteering for work that those committees create will be hugely helpful. We see opportunity in helping to organize events, spread the word about membership, work on grassroots levels with other organizations in line with our mission as opportunities where member effort can fill in for a thin administrative staff!

Farmers markets and Foodie Crowds as outreach opportunities

          o We agree and another great opportunity for volunteers or committees as outlined above!

Work on more opportunities for education and classes (use members to help organize/teach), better education pieces in the newsletter

          o Yes, also another great opportunity for volunteers as outlined above. We will say though, that volunteers still take a lot of work from our staff! And a staff volunteer coordinator will eventually be needed as this work expands – even beginning a few projects will take away valuable – worthwhile – but valuable admin hours from our existing budget.

Poll (use volunteers in store if needed) on products we should carry, “Is there anything you were looking for that you didn’t find today?”

          o Another great idea, and one we can add to the three bullet points above.

Local craft or food fest barter faire style, big annual event with sales drive focus

          o Yes! see above. So many great ideas. The big work turns into editing the ideas down to one or two that are possible this year and allocating resources to make them happen.

Sincerest thanks again for your wonderful feedback and support. We appreciate the compliments AND the hard to have conversations and feedback. This special meeting night for us was truly what a co-op is about. Coming together and finding middle ground to support something that means so much for our community. We continue to welcome feedback and conversation, but please remember the most important thing you can do to help us accomplish all of this work it to SHOP SHOP SHOP. Sales growth is the only way we can improve on and expand programs!

In cooperation,

Main Market Co-op Management