Conference and Survey Show Stronger Co-ops, Yet Many Challenges Remain

The results from this edition's Retail Operations Survey plus reports from the recent Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) conference provide many strong indicators of food co-op health. I'm very pleased to highlight several ongoing projects that are building stronger co-ops, and also to present the annual special edition of Cooperative Grocer, with a new version of the Retail Operations Survey analysis and results.

In Boston, over three hundred food co-op managers and directors from across North America joined trainers and co-op developers for three days of workshops and meetings. After nearly twenty years of attending CCMA, I cannot recall a past conference with this one's depth of training and collaboration among participating co-ops.

Ann Hoyt and her staff from the Urban Cooperative Initiative at University of Wisconsin Extension did a great job of organizing a professional training conference of tremendous value, while also coordinating many contributors and an enjoyable and smoothly run series of displays and social events.

CCMA's sponsor is the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). The NCBA and its CEO Paul Hazen continue to provide major support for other food co-op projects as well.

Along with professional development, a tremendous amount of solidarity and inspiration is imparted at CCMA. Evidence of the latter includes well-deserved awards of recognition (see next page) as well as successful and fun fundraising for co-op training scholarships. Co-ops at the conference challenge each other to support the Howard Bowers Fund, which helps food co-ops pay for providing staff with professional training, and this year attendees generated over $30,000 in contributions -- by far the most ever raised at a CCMA conference.

Local hosts Harvest Co-ops and Northeast Cooperatives provided extra support for the program and special events. Harvest got to show its two stores in Cambridge and Jamaica Plain (highlighted in the previous edition of CG) and some of the strongly competitive Boston retail market. Northeast Cooperatives made important program contributions concerning industry trends; its Manager on Contract program; and its e-commerce plans, including retail-based buying clubs and web-based ordering.

Many other substantial presentations and materials were available and were well received, including marketing cooperative advantage, manager evaluation under policy governance, retail site analysis, food education, member linkage, customer service, and more.

The value of such training contrasted ironically with Ann Hoyt's announcement that the Cooperative Management Institute was being discontinued. This 2-3 week course has graduated many co-op managers over more than a decade. But declining UW institutional support and co-op participation mean that it is time to look at new ways to meet food co-ops' present and future training needs. It will be interesting to see how much progress has been made by June 7-9, 2001 at CCMA in Chicago.

Another workshop excited participants with the potentially great benefits to a co-op and its community generated by funding a co-op community foundation. Twin Pines Co-op Foundation is providing support and matching funds to spread this concept, based on excellent results in California co-ops. The co-op community foundation strategy has the further benefit of requiring examination of the co-op's member capital and marketing strategy, in order to build a solid foundation for the future. It forces co-op leadership to think more about the long term and about the community. Properly structured, a co-op community foundation can start small but after ten or more years yield results that have tremendous impact. (See Community Foundations for details from North Coast Co-op and Twin Pines Co-op Foundation.)

See CGIN Run

By Karen Zimbelman

Cooperative Grocer's Information Network (CGIN) is in its third year of providing web-based services to co-ops at www.cgin.org. Use of its listserve by public subscribers as well as use of resources accessed by CGIN members continue to grow.

The recent CCMA conference was a busy time for CGIN. We first held a strategic planning session on Thursday, while other conference participants were touring local stores. Joining the CGIN board and Karen Zimbelman, CGIN's contractor, were: Dave Gutknecht, on behalf of Cooperative Grocer; Patrice Jennings, board candidate; and Robynn Shrader, on behalf of National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA). The focus of our planning session was how to keep CGIN vital and useful to its members and on how CGIN will work together with NCGA as it prepares to launch its web pages.

After all workshops were completed, we held CGIN's third annual meeting. Highlights of the report to members:

Membership now stands at 82 retail co-ops, with 100% renewal each year; membership also includes two Canadian co-op retails.
Services continue growing: the list-serve has almost 300 subscribers; members have access to 165 items and over 100 deli recipes; the links listing added this year is popular and valuable.
As of May, the CGIN website experiences 1,500 user sessions per month, averaging over ten minutes; 200 users per month visit more than once.

Dan Foley and Mary Courteau were re-elected to the board, joining Paul Cultrera, David Fowle, Pam Mehnert, John Mulle, and Rochelle Prunty.

KZ can be reached at [email protected].

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Co-op Award Winners

Winners of awards of recognition at the June 2000 Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference:

* Cooperative Innovation/Achievement: Walden Swanson and CoCoFiSt

Walden, after nearly thirty years in co-ops, recently has led the development of CoCoFiSt, an exciting and vital new service for retail co-op managers based on software that allows easy quarterly comparison of financial data by numerous co-ops. Participation continues to increase, and, under Walden's leadership, expansion of CoCoFiSt tools for more sophisticated peer comparisons and operational improvements continues as well.

* Cooperative Service: Dan Foley, Wedge Co-op General Manager

During ten years with Dan Foley as general manager, the Wedge Co-op has grown from $1.5 million in annual sales to nearly ten times that level. A 1997 expansion was followed by sales and productivity achievements that solidified the co-op's national reputation. The Wedge management team is a long-term one, and Dan credits them with much of the co-op's success. He continues to lead Wedge Co-op in new ventures in Minneapolis-St. Paul as well as to provide active leadership in regional and national cooperative associations.

* Cooperative Excellence: Coopportunity, General Manager Will Simon

In Santa Monica, led by general manager Will Simon, Coopportunity capped a ten-year rebound from bankruptcy by opening a 12,000 sq. ft. store in 1995. Since that time, co-op membership has grown by several thousand, and store performance has consistently exceeded expectations, with sales and productivity measures that rank Co-opportunity among the strongest retails in the country. Will continues to lead the co-op's excellent achievements.

* Cooperative Milestone: 25 Five Year Anniversaries

Congratulations to these food co-ops, founded in 1975:
 
Bethesda Co-op (Bethesda, MD)
Brattleboro Food Co-op (Brattleboro, VT)
Co-op Market (Las Cruces, NM)
French Broad Food Co-op (Asheville, NC)
George Street Co-op (Trenton, NJ)
Lakewinds Natural Foods Co-op (Minnetonka, MN)
Mountain People's Market (Morgantown, WV)
Newark Community Co-op (Newark, DE)
North Country Co-op (Colville, WA)
Ocean Beach People's Food Co-op (San Diego, CA)
Open Harvest (Lincoln, NE)
Other Avenues (San Francisco, CA)
Ozark Co-op Warehouse (Fayetteville, AR)
Rochester Good Food Store (Rochester, MN)
Washoe Zephyr Natural Foods Co-op (Reno, NV)
White River Co-op (Randolph, VT)
Ypsilanti Food Co-op (Ypsilanti, MI)

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The conference benefited from two ongoing strong currents of collaboration: the CGIN website and the development of joint activities through regional Cooperative Grocers Associations. Recently the CGA momentum has led to formation of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA). An update on NCGA activities, centered on development of a co-op label and development of the food co-op portal of a new website, appears at the end of this piece.

Regional CGA members also are increasingly using CoCoFiSt, the expanding software-based service for sharing data among retail co-op managers. Walden Swanson earned high praise for his outstanding contribution in leading development of CoCoFiSt and its byproducts. This edition's Retail Operations Survey adds to his contributions and to the growing unity around financial reporting and productivity measures.

Also advancing its agenda at the conference was the Cooperative Grocers' Information Network (CGIN), whose web-based services (found at www.cgin.org) are being used by growing numbers of member co-ops and the larger co-op community. A report following up the CGIN annual meeting accompanies this article.

All these many activities manifest the conference theme of "Collaboration Meets Competition," reinforcing a growing recognition of the benefits of co-ops "acting like a chain" and a growing commitment to begin capturing those benefits.

The downside? Some of that is covered in the survey analysis, where weak performers are easy to find.

Then there's the fact that many of our three hundred food co-ops do not participate in the training and networking mentioned. This edition's letter from a co-op manager raises some of the questions about who may not be benefiting.

Finally, it is evident that the leadership of national food co-op organizations have work to do in modifying and balancing their respective agendas in order to meet our ongoing challenge: enhancing our cooperative mission and gaining competitive advantage through greater collaboration.

For a closing high note -- announcing a new website with materials that will be linked to every group mentioned here:
www.cooperativegrocer.com
Cooperative Grocer Online will be launched in July -- details next time!

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National Cooperative Grocers Association

The National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) "identifies, develops and implements effective strategies for coordination and collaboration between regional Cooperative Grocers Associations." Following the June 8-10 co-op conference, NCGA executive director Robynn Shrader sent this update:

The National Cooperative Grocers Association has entered into a partnership with Blooming Prairie to develop a business plan for a national controlled label, utilizing the Co-op label. As part of the business planning process, the Co-op label will be re-positioned and updated to reflect today's market from recent co-op consumer research. Blooming Prairie will license the exclusive use of the Co-op label to NCGA, for national distribution to NCGA retailers and other co-op stores.

NCGA also announced a partnership with the National Co-op Bank (NCB) to launch a food co-op affinity group within NCB's eBusiness project. The new NCB site is named Coopsolutions.com. Coopsolutions.com will be the primary web presence for NCGA and will provide a portal for retailers into various business and financial services that combine NCGA's market potential with affinity groups from other co-op sectors for discounted services and business-to-business products. The site will also be linked with CGIN, Cooperative Grocer, CDS, and other food co-op providers. Coopsolutions.com is projected to go live on September 30, 2000.

For more information on either of these projects, please contact Robynn Shrader, Executive Diretor; Natiuonal Cooperative Grocers Association; (319)466-9029; [email protected].

See other articles from this issue: #089 July - August - 2000