|GM Report: Easing on Down the Road|
by Sabine Rhyne, General Manager
It’s planning season at the Co-op, which means that we take stock of what has been happening in our industry, in our regional co-ops, and in our own store in order to make some plans for what’s next. Typically, managers gather in a long planning retreat-type meeting and review some of the data that we have compiled, and discuss how that information may impact some of the individual department plans that we have in mind, as well as whole-store ideas. At each department meeting, these ideas are discussed and modified, tweaked and made more precise, in preparation for the budget that we put together in what we call the Annual Business Plan.
Some of the ideas that we have been working on over the last 18 months continue to be most important to our planning. Things like continuing to increase our purchases of local products, and thinking through ways to make them even more pervasive in our store. And things like continuing to both learn and educate, making our work more interesting and clearly a part of something larger than ourselves. And, of course, continuing our active work on price points and special deals.
We just met with ten or twelve local farmers to better plan our relationship this year, a tradition that John Truncale, our produce manager, has revived over the last few years, along with the support of our Marketing folks and our Deli buyers. These meetings offer several great opportunities.
We learned, for instance, that a couple of our farmers planted a bunch more strawberries, which was great news, since we never have enough local strawberries in season. We also learned that our sweet potato farmers had planted more acreage hoping to have enough product to take us through twelve months of local sweet potatoes. This is always welcome, as we have worked more and more to extend our offerings of local “hard goods,” like potatoes, onions, carrots, and more, well into the winter months. We also heard that we have to work harder to identify whose farm’s spinach you are buying, even when we are taking in three to four famers’ spinach at the same time of year. These are some of the details, along with delivery times and quantities, that require more scrutiny and work in the back room. John is also planning to take his staff along to visit some of the farms this year, so that they see the operations and can vicariously relate some of their experiences to you in the aisles. We learned about our farmers following Good Agricultural Practices, a point of differentiation that ultimately serves us all through food safety.
When some smaller farmers bring their products to market, they may not have been certified by a state or federal agency, since their acreage might still not be large enough to provide the economic base they would need to make such steps feasible. Yet, our role as your purchasing agent means that we have to ensure that our local providers use proper methodologies, even when the produce is “wild crafted,” in order to ensure our standard of food safety. Our deli is also working hard to increase the products that they can buy locally in season, a potential growth area for our farmers. There, we can buy produce that looks a little rough, typically called “number two” product, but still is of high quality. Having it come in clean and washed makes a huge difference to our capacity in the kitchen.
We continue to work on training and educational opportunities whenever we can. We have brought in some folks to help train staff, we have sent some folks to trainings, and we even had a distance learning workshop for trainers last December using a camera and a projector to allow the trainer to “see” and call on participants during the sessions. We hope to use this method more in the future, as an economical way to bring in expertise without the travel price tag. We also invest in a three day orientation, as I mentioned recently, for all new hires every quarter. Inevitably, some of those folks leave, as some do early in a job, and others don’t make the grade.
But still, we want them to know as much as possible about cooperatives and our store’s operations early, so that they can assimilate better, know who everyone is, and what matters to every department. Not everyone agrees with me, but I think we all benefit from this type of intensive interaction.
And finally, we continue to work on everyday low prices as well as exciting special deals. We’re getting better at asking our suppliers the right questions, and this will continue to be a focus in the year to come. Our marketing folks are getting the word out in new and better ways, and some of you are paying close attention. Thank you. For the rest of you, look around and let us know what you find.
We think we’ve been doing good work throughout the store, but that only works if you happen to notice. So look around, and when you find that we really have made some significant progress on prices, let your neighbor and your co-worker know. We need you to spread the word!
This month brings us spring weather, at least some of the time, and Earth Day as well. We will be offering a variety of activities and classes for kids and adults focused on environmental issues. We even will be asking the kids to help us with some art to assist you in throwing your trash in the correct receptacle in our café. And hopefully, by the time this issue goes to press, you will have come to weigh in on our website redesign, or our Bulk department discussion. This is your Co-op, and we want to hear from you! And happy spring!