Greetings CreekSide Community,
As we come to the conclusion of the first calendar quarter for the Co-op’s new Board and Duncan MacGilvray, our new General Manager, it’s time for an update on the health and accomplishments of our vital enterprise. We hope you have already noticed some significant improvements in your store experience, including fuller shelves, a wider range of product, better pricing, improved prepared food, and…
- A “reset” of the grocery section eliminated a large number of product lines that were simply not selling and replaced them with new items and new vendors that are constantly being updated to reflect the buying preferences of our shoppers;
- The produce section has been expanded both in physical area and content and includes more items that members tell us they want, such as convenient precut veggies;
- We have introduced new, experienced culinary staff in the kitchen to increase the range and quality of offerings on a daily basis, along with new opportunities for professional training and development with our supplier partners;
- Through our weekly newsletter and in-store specials, we are offering more products at competitive pricing.
Speaking of pricing, Duncan and the Co-op staff continue to pursue the ideal balance between product selection, product sourcing and price. At CreekSide, we take seriously our philosophy to prioritize choices that are fresh, locally grown, containing natural ingredients, and respectful of the planet and its inhabitants. For example, a number of NPR stories have highlighted the difference between “slow growth” and antibiotic-free chickens compared with conventional poultry. Here at CreekSide we are proud to have always sourced our fresh meat, rotisserie and prepared foods chicken from Bell & Evans in Fredericksburg, PA. You can check out their Humane Animal Welfare Standard and even watch a video about how they raise their flocks at www.bellandevans.com. Another item in the news recently brought attention to the plight of Thai shrimp industry workers. In response to member feedback, CreekSide currently carries only domestic shrimp that is sustainably and ethically farmed.
Our staff and Board receive comments and requests throughout the year related to brand and product concerns. Yet these decisions come with other implications. They can mean fewer choices or higher costs for certain products, at the same time that the Co-op is striving to provide our customers with as broad a selection and competitive pricing as possible. To help navigate this challenge, Duncan has formed a Product & Education Committee that is assisting with review, recommendations and communication with the membership related to product ethics, sustainability and member feedback. You will be hearing more from them through in-store signage, web and social media and responses to your questions.
CreekSide continues to function as an anchor for revitalization of the local business area and a contributing (and tax paying) member of the community. Our community room hosts numerous local events, from sports sign-ups to local group meetings and educational activities. And we are particularly happy to host students from the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit program which includes students from Cheltenham High School who gain valuable experience by volunteering in the store with school and Co-op staff.
So how is the Co-op doing financially? The successful refinancing of our mortgage at the end of last year allowed us to finally develop a manageable break-even budget for 2016 – and we are pleased to report that we are up to date on our debt service with both our building and equipment lenders. Duncan and our team have invested enormous effort into optimizing our inventory systems, product mix, suppliers, and margins. However, despite these efforts and the positive feedback we have received over the last few months from our member/owners and shoppers, our weekly sales continue to lag about 5-10% less than they were at the same time last year. The resulting tightness in our cash flow has required us to constrain our operating expenses and vendor terms more aggressively than we would prefer.
We must therefore turn our attention to increasing sales – so let’s talk about Board and staff priorities for the next quarter. These include:
- Completing the final steps needed to secure the $150,000 Montgomery County grant awarded at the end of last year. This money is slated for much needed floor repairs and equipment upgrades, as well as costs incurred with our interim store management consultant, Uplift Solutions.
- Stepping up communications with member/owners. A new regular CreekSide circular containing both co-op and community news, as well as product information and specials, is being developed with our suppliers for pick-up in-store and at area businesses and other popular locations (we know that not everyone wants to rely on emails – or junk mail). Additionally, a TV screen will be mounted shortly inside the co-op to carry similar information and “real-time” updates. And yes, our website and social media presence will be getting a boost as well. Our marketing committee is actively engaged in supporting these initiatives.
- Developing a viable implementation plan for craft beer sales to be presented to the Board and membership for consideration. Members continue to tell us they want this feature in our store; the work previously completed on a business case indicated that offering craft beer could provide a significant boost to sales, and our new building lenders and others in the community have opened the door to the necessary financial support which is likely over $75,000. A taskforce is now hard at work determining next steps.
- Increasing our shopper traffic and average “spend”. We desperately need to make up that 5-10% of lost revenue I mentioned earlier. We need to attract back the members and shoppers who have drifted away from the Co-op by spreading the word about the improvements to our product mix, prepared foods, pricing and customer service – and by continuing to be responsive to feedback from our customers and community.
- Continuing to find new ways to engage with our member/owners and be a valued contributor to the vibrancy of our community. The membership committee is working hard to expand our reach and appeal to the wonderful diversity that characterizes our township and surrounding areas. And recently the Board took action to remove the unintended “penalties” to restarting a lapsed membership.
There has never been a better time to allow us to earn back your loyalty – and for those who need no persuading, we ask you to be enthusiastic ambassadors for a store you can call your own. Spread the word among those you meet. If you see something you like in the store, take a picture and post it on Facebook. Look for new products that can help you to “Shop CreekSide First”. Every new customer and every incremental sale will help us move further along the road to success.
Finally, thank you to Duncan, our dedicated staff, and all of our member/owners and shoppers. I look forward to seeing you at the Co-op!