As I write this, I have not left my home in over three weeks. Hopefully, the shelter-at-home order will be lifted soon and we will all be emerging from our homes, coming together once more in a bright and beautiful springtime.
We are facing something that is unprecedented in many ways. As Americans, most of us have never been in a situation where there is danger in simply leaving our home. But beyond that, we are facing a national disaster which is putting people who are not traditional soldiers or first responders on the front lines of what is both an historic battle against an invisible foe and an epic humanitarian mission to keep people safe and fed in our community.
Before I go any further, I would like to recognize that along with our healthcare workers, the staff at our grocery stores, especially those on the floor and at the front end are putting themselves at risk every day to ensure that the rest of us can continue to sustain ourselves through this difficult period. While our words can never express the depth of our gratitude or convey the importance of their work in keeping all of us alive and well, please join me in thanking our Co-op staff every chance you get.
Thanks to Jon Megas-Russell, Manager of Marketing and Community Relations for the Co-op, all feedback that you submit, either by written note at shareholder services, via email, or through the Facebook page, is shared directly with staff. Thank yous and letters of love and strength you send to firstname.lastname@example.org will help to fuel our essential workers.
This is an especially difficult time for bricks and mortar retailers and restaurants – establishments which traditionally depend on customers visiting their stores in person. Due to the essential nature of the service they provide, this is an especially strange time for grocery stores. Between the mass-hoarding in early March and the resulting appearance of scarcity on the shelves, and now the empty parking lots, it’s hard to guess how the Co-op itself might be faring financially. While the Co-op had a couple of banner weeks in the run-up to the shelter-at-home order, we are now facing a drop in business.
I am proud and impressed that our Co-op, unlike other grocers in our area, is offering phone orders and curb-side pick-up. Getting this up and running in short order has been a herculean effort which as been lauded in local and state-wide media reports as setting the bar in terms of adherence to the CDC’s guidance on social distancing while also ensuring continued access to the food on which we depend. While this is excellent for both consumers and staff from a virus containment standpoint, between the order taking, the grocery picking, the bulk bagging, the call-back, and the curb-side hand-off, fulfilling a phone order costs the Co-op far more in labor than the traditional pricing structure is set up to support. On top of that, overall sales volumes are down significantly.
So what can we do?
Well for starters, we can try to increase those volumes. To the extent you are able, when you call to put in your 20-item order, buy more of each of those 20 things. Why buy three cans of tuna fish when you could buy five? They won’t go bad, you know you’re going to use them, and these additional sales will help to sustain the Co-op. Or, if increasing the size of your orders isn’t feasible, simply consolidating two smaller orders into one larger order will reduce the total labor hours spent on each order.
Second, (and if you’ve been reading Food For Thought or Sabine’s monthly column regularly, you probably knew this was coming), now is the time to take decisive action on the discount front, to make a small concession to ensure our Co-op’s survival now and in the future.
The proposed change would reduce the Elder and Working Member discounts by three percentage points, from 8% to 5%, beginning July 1. The Food For All discount, for those in greatest need, will remain unchanged. This proposed change equates to forgoing $0.03 per dollar we spend, or $3.00 per $100.00 we spend. Each time you spend $10.00 and toss a bean for the charity of your choice, you can also be proud to have invested $0.30 in the future of the Co-op. In my mind, by advocating for this change I am voting with my dollars for something I believe in.
I believe in buying fresh produce from local growers. I believe in paying a fair wage to people who work hard in support of an organization I value. And I believe, now more than ever, that the Co-op is not just a place where I am guaranteed to run into every single person I know every time I walk through the door, but is in fact an essential service critical to the survival of our community. We hope that this change will enable the organization to survive the current headwinds and rebuild strength and in time, when the organization is healthy enough, strong enough, our sacrifice will pay dividends (literally), in the form of a shareholder dividend.
To borrow from that old crisis adage, never has asking so little from all meant so much for the whole.
By Skye Morse