Generation Gaps

Three different generations gaps can be seen in this edition: First, the annual Retail Operations Survey notes strong growth by many co-ops -- but also an inability to generate new sales or new stores at the rate occurring among private natural products retailers. This gap leads to market share loss.

Another generation gap is suggested when I observe with concern the number of manager openings among co-ops. Managers leave for various reasons. Butjust as many co-ops undervalue capital, perhaps many members and directors undervalue their managers -- they don't know what they've got 'til it's gone. I recall a comment years ago by one of our best, who remarked that despite conventional grocery wisdom saying the three leading factors in retail success are "location, location, and location," in her view for co-ops they are "management, management, and management."

We won't generate future good managers unless we do well by our present people. I refer not merely to staff and manager pay and benefits (where most co-ops don't do so poorly) but also to the moral and professional support that a good board of directors provides.

The author of this edition's board column -- pages worth even closer director study than the survey -- commented to me that she recently had the disconcerting realization that the older, experienced co-op leaders whom we first met twenty years ago were younger then than we are now! A few cooperators of my generation, for whom the future has never arrived, are recreating the generation gap by insisting that the co-op stay as it allegedly once was. I myself was blessed with a few older friends and mentors. But I could fall into inflexible repetition of the same old historical criticisms and lessons: the need for more education; overdiscounting and the lack of capital; the need for good management; our growth mission; co-op board members who don't know their assets from a hole in the ground; and so on.

With your help this publication, now ten years old, as well as your co-op can sustain the passionate democratic energies that launched our enterprises. The survey's narrative comments are offered in a spirit of sharing and of pride, spirit we need to give each other and to the next generation of cooperators.

See other articles from this issue: #059 July - August - 1995