Five years ago, general manager Susan McGaughey and member-owners of Valley Natural Foods initiated the relocation project that led to the development of property on the Burnsville/Apple Valley border, just south of the Twin Cities. The location has a strong neighborhood appeal for the co-op, yet still offers easy access from major traffic routes.
Focus group feel
During the planning years, McGaughey turned to P.J. Hoffmann of Blooming Prairie for help with designing the relocation of Valley Natural Foods. Hoffmann developed a store with wider aisles, enough shelf space to accommodate entire cases of product, and ample room for receiving and offices. He also incorporated a drive-up window and a receiving bay that remains out of sight for homes in the neighborhood.
Valley Natural Foods conducted focus groups to determine the look and expression of the new building. The member-owners wanted an open and airy co-op. They wanted to retain a feel of farm country and a space that reflected the hominess of a north woods cabin. McGaughey hired Retail Works of Cedarburg, Wisconsin to achieve this unique Minnesota look. Under the guidance of McGaughey, Retail Works selected paints in three shades of sage, offset by a warm buttery yellow. Retail Works transformed old farmhouse doors into unique wooden signs. They reshaped twigs to form the numbers of each checkout lane, created a birchwood "thank you" sign by the exit; hung a country platter of colorful porcelain that announces "Eat" by the dining room and marked aisles with hanging "trail." All printed materials -- from department labels and signs to brochures and ads -- use the new fonts that complete the Valley Natural Foods look. Staff also insured that plenty of green plants be placed for a finished homey appeal.
The co-op opened its new store on June 6, 2001. Department managers such as Mike Hjelden, head of produce, and deli manager Jill Webster are proud of the efficiency and look of the new store. The concrete floor of the produce section is covered with material from recycled tires. The rubbery black tiles flecked with green have a clean look and provide a non-skid surface that doesn't get slippery when mopped or sprayed by the produce misters.
The produce area, like the rest of the store, is beautiful and functional. The natural flow of the store next leads customers down Trail 1, an expanded bulk section. There are eight 36-foot trails offering expanded groceries, dairy and non-dairy, frozen foods, and one of the most complete lines of natural pet products in the state. The wellness center spans two trails, complete with a staffed info center and customer seating. Along the back wall is a natural meat and seafood section and the new deli.
Jill Webster, deli manager, heads the new department, housing a complete hot foods deli, self-serve bakery, fresh salad bar, specialty cheese section, grab-and-go deli and juice and java bar. Along with counter seats at the juice bar, seating is available at the front of the store and outdoor patio. For those in a hurry, there is a drive-through window access, called Java Drive. Community groups have also started using the co-op classroom for meetings while enjoying carafes of organic coffee and platters of homemade scones.
Financing the relocation of Valley Natural Foods required significant commitment from the co-op's member owners before a bank would support the project. By May of 2001, the member-owners of Valley Natural Foods had raised $427,700 in member loans.
Acquiring member loans requires persistence and education. McGaughey advises that those who are intimately familiar with the details of the project should be directly involved with soliciting member loans. If a co-op takes the time to educate its membership, the member-owners will be able to make well-informed choices.
Valley Natural Foods: Burnsville, Minnesota
[former location / new location (6/6/2001)]
Size (retail): 3,500 sq. ft. / 7,500 sq. ft.
Size (total): 4,150 sq. ft. / 13,200 sq. ft.
Annual sales: $2,600,000 / $4,500,000 (projected)
Customers/day: 290 / 500
Average transaction: $25.29 / $23.13
Staff: 55 / 100
Member owners: 2,095
Relocation project costs: $3,259,000
At Valley Natural Foods, Charli Mills is marketing manager.