Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Boise Co-op Announces Store Restructuring Plans at Annual Member Meeting

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2011 at 2:01 PM

The Boise Co-op’s annual member meeting Nov. 2 was a far cry from member meetings of years past. Not only did the Co-op advertise the meeting for months beforehand, but folks actually showed up. Around 50, and most were older than 50.

Before new Ben Kuzma, Co-op general manager, ceded the Linen Building floor to member questions, he outlined some of the changes the Co-op has in the works. Not only is the North End grocery store in the process of hiring a marketing manager and a new finance manager—which it never had in the past—there are big plans to revamp the deli department and the layout of the store by spring 2012. The Co-op hired Matt Fuxan, former Red Feather Lounge sustainability manager, to help bring more local, sustainable products into the new deli.

“We are focusing on trying to have cleaner ingredients and more food choices in the deli,” explained Kuzma. “We’re shifting over from a full-service-type deli, to where we’re actually preparing really good food that tastes good and is nutritious, and selling it out of our deli kitchen.”

To accommodate these new dine-in customers, the Co-op also plans to put in a seating area.

“We’re looking at putting some seating near the front area of the store, over where the wellness section is,” explained Kuzma. “We’re looking at restrooms in that area for customers. … We’re trying to make it more accommodating to the members and make it a more pleasant place.”

Additionally, the Co-op is writing job descriptions for every employee, “even if they don’t particularly want them,” said Debbi Woods Staley, human resources manager, with a laugh.

The Co-op is also taking a hard look at the products it carries to determine what is successful and what needs to be phased out. Three brands of pickled garlic, Kuzma joked, are more than enough.

“We’re also working at trying to reduce our inventory. … We have a lot of inventory and we could turn that inventory into cash and we could turn that cash into purchasing equipment and upgrading the store,” said Kuzma.

Board member David Eberle referred to these changes as “structural, back of office-type discussions,” and emphasized that the real goal is enhanced customer experience and improved product quality.

“How should our Co-op look now that we’ve got our house in order and are able to hear you?” Eberle asked.

And hear people, they did. During the Q&A component of the meeting, an audience member asked a particularly direct question of the board: “Who’s responsible for trying to keep the costs down? Especially with Whole Foods coming in?”

“We’ll be competitive with Whole Foods,” Kuzma said. “We’re not going to compete with Winco. I think a lot of people do shop at multiple stores. … We appreciate the business that you do with us, but we will be competitive with people that are selling products like us.”

One way the Co-op has positioned itself to remain competitive with natural foods giant Whole Foods—which broke ground Oct. 21 in the empty lot bordered by Broadway Avenue and Front and Myrtle streets—is by joining the National Cooperative Grocer's Association.

“One of the benefits of joining a national organization is that cost of goods will be lower because we’ll be treated as a chain. … We’ve been getting our price discounts through large purchases, that’s not always a good way to get a discount. … When we switched to becoming full members of NCGA, we’ll be one of 113 Co-ops and they treat us as a chain. … We’ll be similar to Whole Foods in that we’ll get the cost-plus deal.”

Kuzma added: “It’s not smart to be perceived as high-priced; we have to play the game in some sort.”

The next Boise Co-op board meeting will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. Co-op board election results are currently being tallied after polls closed Nov. 1, and will be announced soon.

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