The Long and Winding Road to Expansion

By Sarah Christensen, General Manager, Co-op Owner, and Ben Sandel, Cooperative Board Leadership Consultant


The Long and Winding Road to Expansion is paved with speed bumps, potholes, flat tires,
doubt, tears, joy, you get the idea.

What is going on with GreenTree’s expansion? Is it ever going to happen, I mean really? Are they even working on it? Why is it taking so long? You’ve probably asked yourself or a friend a few of these questions and they are all completely reasonable, skepticism included. We certainly hear them a lot, and believe me, we’d like it to go faster too. But there is a lot at stake and we want to be very careful and do this right! Lots of things are happening, but some, like the new location, we can’t tell you about until we’ve actually got the lease signed. But here are some things we can tell you…

– The kind of location that worked when we opened, over 40 years ago, doesn’t work today. Although we love our little store, the grocery world has changed a lot, with bigger stores and lots more competition. For our Co-op to remain successful, our new location needs to be quite a bit bigger and have ample parking and a loading dock. We’d also like it to have more space for our back-end functions, so our staff has a more efficient, safe and fun place to work.
– Our competition may have corporate parents with deep pockets, but we don’t. When a grocery chain wants to expand, they’ve got a whole team that works on new stores, and a healthy budget. Though Co-ops get support from National Cooperative Grocers (the national purchasing and marketing Co-op we cooperatively own with over 120 other Co-ops), our budgets are tighter and we have to plan and execute these projects ourselves, while also keeping our store running well every day.

And here are some things we’ve already done:

2011 – We started work on a Proforma. This is a complex tool that forecasts the cost of relocation (based on industry standards) as well as details on income and expenses, debt, cash, etc for 10 years with different assumptions and scenarios. We’ve reworked this at least a half dozen times since then.
2012 – We completed a market study – basically assessing whether or not there is a market here for a larger footprint natural foods store and the answer was yes, essentially if we build it, they will come. This study specifically looked at 3 sites and all of them had positive growth numbers.
2012 – We asked Owners and shoppers what they wanted in a new store, through surveys and annual meeting activities and in person conversations. The Board of Directors then compiled that information into a rubric. Here is what we heard in 2012:

The Board has used this rubric a few times to score potential sites.
2013 – We started some conversations with developers about a site downtown. This was the top site in our market study from 2012 and met a lot of the wants we heard Owners express. Those conversations continued with the City of Mt. Pleasant and various developers off and on for 5 years. They are still happening today.
2015 – We updated our bylaws and articles of incorporation to allow us to sell preferred shares. This is a popular tool for Co-ops in raising money for expansion. (More to come!)
2017/18 – We completed customer mapping and a completely new market study.

Our Co-op is a wonderful but complicated thing. We want our next location to be good for our staff, Owners, shoppers, farmers, suppliers, and anyone else who interacts with it. And we want it to be good for the environment and reasonably priced, too. It takes a while to get all of these pieces in place, but we are working on it, and hoping to share good news with you sooner rather than later. Stay tuned, good things are coming!

What’ll be different when the Co-op moves?

When a Co-op moves to a bigger location, things change. And change can be hard! Your favorite products will be in new locations, aisles will be longer and you’ll have a lot more choices to make as product selection increases. What can we expect to change when we get to our new location?
– There will be more parking, so you can get to and from the Co-op more easily and not have to carry full grocery bags so far,
– There will be more products in almost every department,
– We will be able to hire more staff, and have more chances for staff to grow and advance at the Co-op,
– We’ll have more options in pre-prepared foods, so you can pick up a hot, fresh and nutritious lunch or dinner, along with more wraps, sandwiches, baked goods, soups… plus indoor seating year-round and outdoor seating too.

But what stays the same, even as we move to a big, bright, new and shiny store?
– Our principles and values that that Co-ops live by and that guide everything we do,
– Our ownership structure – we’ll still be 100% cooperatively owned by our community,
– Our commitments to being a great employer, a great vendor, and a GREAT CO-OP!

There is something YOU can do to make sure our Co-op is as warm and friendly as it’s always been too: be the Co-op you want to have – welcome new Owners and new workers, try new products, learn what makes Co-ops so special, invite your friends to have lunch with you at the Co-op, and help us keep our Co-op as fun, friendly and local as ever. Our long and winding road may feel like the Oregon Trail now, full of dysentery, snakebites, and exhaustion, but the destination will be worth it! Stay with us!

3 comments

  • After being on the board and experiencing the roller coaster, aka, expansion, you have hit the nail on center Sarah!
    Keep persevering and thanks to you and staff for all you do.

  • Thank you Julie. We’re so glad you enjoyed the article, and that you continue to be engaged in the Co-op process!

  • Thank you so much for informing us. This information was well laid out and understandable. I’m proud to have been a part of making sure the co-op made it out of it’s financial difficulty in the past and helped to maintain its co-operative structure. I couldn’t be more happy to see it continually evolve with the co-operative principles and values firmly in place. Namaste!

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