In honor of my first 4th of July as GM of the Co-op, I would like to share some thoughts about independence. Independence has been core to the Co-op identity since the Rochdale Principles were articulated in 1844. As such, it is an important concept for us to understand and embrace at the Brattleboro Food Co-op (BFC). Independence is usually defined in one of two ways. The first is the state of being free from outside control. The second is not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence. I firmly believe that in order to serve the Ends articulated by our shareholders, we must be true to our Cooperative Principles.
Sustainability. The capacity to endure without contributing to wanton depletion. Economically, socially, culturally, and ecologically, we at your Co-op are charged with positive contributions to the longevity of our community. Specifically, I interpret this to mean that we provide the goods and services that are needed in the local community, and we operate a fiscally sound business in order to contribute to the local economy. A tall order, to be sure. For two years now, we have been able to make a profit, although that profit is well under 1% of sales. Still, being on the right side of that zero is part of our charge.
In last month’s column, I reported about our Co-op’s performance last fiscal year, through the lens of the first of our “Ends,” or overarching aspirational goals. Our second “End” states that the BFC exists to meet its shareholders’ collective needs for a welcoming community marketplace.
As you may remember, after our fiscal year settles out I report to our Board of Directors how well we have achieved, or attempted to achieve, our “Ends” during that period. These aspirational goals have guided us since 2007, when the then-Board of Directors adopted them. I think you may be comforted to know that this conversation takes place every year, without fail, and is supported by a wide variety of data collection to evaluate our progress. I will communicate as much as possible in these pages.
The relationship that you as our owners have to our retail operation is quite different from that between customers and other stores, in so many ways. We have a large staff working on your behalf to bring you the products and services that you need, in a manner that is consistent with how humans shop in retail stores these days. But the details of what we do are still just beyond what you experience in your shopping trips, and I believe that we all gain from a better understanding of how our individual actions impact things like prices on the shelves and profits at the end of a fiscal year.
Co-op Projected to Give Over $700,000 This Year
As hopefully most Shareholders know, our Co-op has just had its first profitable year in many, with a net profit of about $30,000. This is great! This is something we should celebrate and of which we can be proud, while continuing to push for further business success.
I’ve heard that some of our members are curious about what the Board actually does. Given that I’m new to the Board this year, perhaps I can provide a view of what the Board does through the eyes of someone unacquainted with the workings of the Board, until now.
At the turn of the millennium, the leadership of our Co-op, both on the board and on the management team, worked on understanding where our business could make changes in order to not only reduce its footprint, but actually to work towards becoming “a regenerative business that has a net positive environmental impact.” This became our fourth Ends policy. We have reported on the sales of local products in our store, which—due to how much of it we sell—clearly has some effect on our overall impact. These products clearly burn
I have previously referred to the process that our board uses to measure how well we are achieving our goals at nearly every board meeting. As the one charged with the execution of these goals, this methodology forces me to quantify our success. Few assessments are more important than monitoring the overarching “Ends” policies, which hopefully you reviewed and commented on at our annual meeting last month. These policies are quite extensive in their scope, and challenging to encapsulate in an annual report, but reviewing the data is fascinating and useful.