An Owner raised some concerns with the Board via email recently and we replied, but also felt like we should share our answer more broadly.
The concerns were that it sounds like our plans are too ambitious and for an unnecessarily high end store. They were also worried that current plans are not taking the realities of Covid into account.
Thanks so much for reaching out. It’s important for the Board to hear Owner voices.
We appreciate your concern about the scope of the store and to be honest, investigating that is exactly what we’re doing with our Firebrand consultants right now. As we’ve shared in other emails recently and our Owner zoom sessions (here’s one), the Board realized we were trying to make a Cadillac fit into a space where it would not fit. Our charge to the Firebrand team is to instead tell us what can fit and work in that location and if that means simplifying, we are all ears. We are eager to have their expertise define the store better for us so that it meets Owner needs; so that it hits sales targets and pays labor such that it stays in business; and so that it is a welcoming and accessible place for all in the community to shop. Early feedback from Firebrand tells us this is possible and we await their final report to guide us. If you’ve not seen it, I’d encourage you to watch the video presentation from them or read our synopsis – both are here.
One important thing we learn from Firebrand’s research is that we cannot model ourselves exactly on the typical co-op found in college and mid-sized towns. They are wonderful, but they don’t translate directly to a dense, urban environment like Chicago. Their real estate costs are far lower; their construction costs are lower; their labor costs are lower; their sales volume is much lower; and on the plus side for us, our sales margins will be higher. Firebrand is looking at a few dense urban stores to help us model correctly for a successful store.
And the good news coming from Covid is that grocery is a needed business. Co-ops and grocery stores are doing well and perhaps surprisingly, there is not a large percentage of sales moving online. The brick-and-mortar model is definitely still valid. We shared some of that learning here recently – What About E-Commerce?
So we’re in agreement with you – we do need to be sure we’re pursuing the right vision for a co-op in our current environment and we feel confident we’re well-researched and have the right team building the road map for us right now. It’s a big shift from where we were and we’ll know more later this month when we get Firebrand’s final report, analyze it, analyze our funding capacity, and make a decision about how best to move forward. We hope you’ll keep an eye on things and give your Co-op the support it needs to succeed.