Letter to Members June 2013
Dear Member, We’d like to take this moment to invite you to an urgent and critical conversation about the sustainability of our Co-op.
The road to here
The Co-op has come a long way since our store opened in December 2011, with an increase in membership every quarter since then, the addition of a walk-in cooler, air conditioning, a third shopping day in 2012, as well as the welcome arrival of Allison Stewart, our first paid employee-Store Coordinator.
In response to member feedback, that the Co-op was not making and implementing decisions quickly enough, we’ve changed our bylaws. Now we seven directors (elected by you, the membership) hold a Working Meeting each month and are fast-tracking issues. We have implemented a process to more rapidly and transparently respond to the Co-op’s needs.
The only way to succeed
We need members to join and commit to working in the store, ROUTINELY. The good news is that many members are regularly working 2 hours every 4 weeks. The bad news is that almost half our members are not. The result? Chronic understaffing is crippling store operations.
You want stats…
Before the store opened in December 2011 we had 587 member-owners. Now we have 1262, (of whom 220 are on leave), leaving 1042 active members. To quantify our problem, 170 members have not worked all year long (a loss of 1700 hours, 170 times 5 cycles times 2 hours) and an additional 310 members have not worked any hours in the past two work cycles (a loss of 1240 hours).
How does understaffing affect the store operations? Members who don’t show up for their shifts (“no-shows”) have prevented the store from opening or caused it to close during receiving hours. Suppliers have been unable to make deliveries. The reputation of the Co-op has suffered with our vendors & members. Our shelves, fridges, freezers and produce cases have been understocked, and member-shoppers have gone home without the groceries they need.
“No-shows” during receiving or shopping hours also place extra burdens on working members who do show up. Merchandise doesn’t make it to the stock room and shelves. Prices are not up-to-date on shelves, or in the “point of sale” system. Checkout lines are too long when there’s only one cashier. Workers who do show up are left to fend for themselves which increases overall frustration.
We cannot grow if we cannot sustain our current level of business. We are on the cusp of jeopardy and we need every member to consider why they joined Greene Hill, what they envisioned and hoped it would be, and recommit themselves to helping this Co-op achieve those goals.
Ongoing Investment — All Members Must Work
We’re all member-owners, and as such, we all make an ongoing investment working 2 hours every 4 weeks. There are only two other co-ops like ours in the USA, the Park Slope Food Coop (PSFC) founded in 1973 and the Missoula Community Co-op in Montana founded in 2006. Both are open for shopping 7 days a week.
Besides creating a coop community, the other great advantage of the working-member model is that the hours members invest in the store keep our payroll costs low, which translates into even lower prices than those you’ll find in the typical food co-op. (If you didn’t know exactly our mark-up is approximately 10-30% lower than other grocery and market stores.)
The Future Dreams
We started with a lease, a buying club, a renovation to one of our three areas, and we continue to keep our eye on growth. We have just begun an interim renovation that will leave the store cleaner, better lit and pest free. (Please check our Facebook page and website for regular updates).
While the construction will use up a large portion of our capital reserve, it’s essential for future expansion. We hope that benefits will include an increase in membership, longer shopping hours and a larger, more diverse inventory. Eventually the goal is to install glass-front refrigerators / freezers and a refrigerated produce case, expand our bulk selection and generally double our floor space and thereby inventory.
None of this will be possible without the member labor that we so desperately need.
What Can You Do?
- Sign Up for a shift - If you have trouble finding a time slot and job that suits your schedule, desires and abilities on Shift Planning, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for help. The Membership Committee will help you find work that suits your schedule and needs. Some members sign up as “floaters” without a recurring shift, but are “on call” when Allison finds gaps in the work roster that need filling.
- Swap shifts - You can swap shifts with another member if you can’t avoid missing a shift (it happens to all of us !). Sign up for the Google group Greene Hill Co-op Shift Trade, e-mail email@example.com where you can find members to swap shifts with.
- If life intervenes don’t cancel or drop out - we have a generous “leave” policy. (Parents with new children receive a 12-week reprieve from working, and can still shop in the store. Members who are out of town or just to busy to work, can go “on leave,” so that they don’t fall behind on work shifts; but they also give up their shopping privileges, until they are back in town or able to work in the store again).
We are withdrawing shopping privileges from members who don’t work. Greene Hill policy is that you lose your shopping privileges if you miss 2 work shifts in a row. Our policy is less strict than PSFC’s, where members must work 2 shifts to make up for every shift they miss (if they don’t inform the Membership office ahead of time). We don’t want to recommend PSFClike sanctions for Greene Hill, but if our “no show” rate remains stubbornly high, what other option will we have?
But in effort to not be overly vigilant –we make is easy for members “in default” to restore their shopping privileges. For members who have fallen far behind and owe many (3 or more) work shifts, we allow them a “one time” forgiveness for their un-worked shifts. They only need to work 2 shifts, in order to restore their shopping privileges.
Thanks to all the members (and there are many) who show up for shifts regularly, swap shifts, become shift leaders and who jump in to help when the store is understaffed, whether they’ve done a job before or not. Their enthusiasm, good will and teamwork are what make Greene Hill a true democracy – a “cooperative.” We’re a fun, mutually-supporting community of owners, running a grocery store with great food, at great prices! It’s hard fitting work shifts into our busy lives, but it’s worth the effort, isn’t it?
The more members who work and shop at the store, the faster we grow, the longer we stay open, the better we make the store.
Please share your thoughts with us.
Pablo Armijo, Nick Collins, Lawrence Eichorn, DK Holland, April Taylor, Christina Travers, Aaron Zueck
Board of Directors