January 2006

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Operations News

An Overview of Operations

by Dan Frost, Operations Manager

This is a relatively new column for us in Operations that will appear periodically in the Reader. I’ll use the space this month to provide an overview of who the Operations teams are and what the they do and give a bit of history about what we’ve accomplished recently.

Operations is a catch term we use to refer to three specific ‘support’ departments: Maintenance, Information Technology (IT) and Point of Sale (PoS). Together our purpose is to support the rest of the organization. Our roles are often, but not always, less apparent to the general membership and public. We’re the ones behind the curtains pulling levers and making things work for your shopping experience. That will be my last reference to Oz, but wizardry may well get discussed again as I explain what these three teams do in more detail.

Installed, working, & clean

Maintenance is perhaps the Operations team with the most tangible purpose. The team is responsible for keeping our facilities and grounds (at the main retail, our off-site offices, and our off-site kitchen) clean and in good repair. Maintenance helps research and install new equipment, performs routine preventative maintenance, performs or oversees repairs to all our equipment and the building itself and has recently taken on all regular janitorial work.

Some notable things the maintenance crew has accomplished recently include orchestrating the resurfacing of our lot with no interruption to shopping services and solidifying systems surrounding the composting of much of our waste. The fact that maintenance took over routing cleaning of our store from the contractors we had hired is actually a pretty big deal. We are proud of the benefits and pay we can offer and glad to be able to offer them to more staff, surely, but most important is the diligence that the Maintenance team members bring to the task. One indicator of this diligence I’m actually quite proud of is the team’s continued prevention of pest infestation at any of our sites—a feat that is actually quite difficult in the food industry.

By far, however, the bulk of Maintenance’s work is in addressing the many small problems that crop up on a daily basis. In addition to actually fixing and preventing these, however, the Maintenance team diligently makes record of their work and the issues they address in order to save us time and money when working on recurring problems. The preservation of this ‘institutional’ knowledge has been quite a challenge in the past and I believe the current team is getting it right.

Fast and accurate

Our PoS team is responsible for maintaining all the data in our register system and lots more data that is not. These folks are the ones who prevent the long hold-ups at the check-out lanes that would happen if items were not scanning. This may sound like a narrow and simple job, but it is far from it. The team oversees a database of close to 15,000 sellable ID numbers representing the well over 10,000 products we offer for sale (many items can be sold under multiple numbers and many are not sold at all times). They also manage another 3,000 product records for supplies we do not retail. This in itself is impressive, but when you consider what goes into ‘managing’ this data the importance of the PoS team’s job becomes more clear.

Making sure items scan is a tangible goal. What is less clear on the surface is the PoS team’s role in protecting your business’ health. The Co-op operates on a very slim profit margin because our goal is to serve our owners, not make a lot of money. For this reason it is vital that whenever even minor price increases are incurred by the Co-op we be made aware of them immediately and take them into consideration when pricing our products. If we routinely miss or are slow to adjust our pricing in response to such increases, our razor thin margin will disappear, quickly putting the Co-op in financial jeopardy. The PoS team examines hundreds of product invoices a week in fine detail looking for all price changes or additions. This is tedious, exacting, and vital work.

This past year we were audited by the City for accuracy of scanning: we passed with 100% accuracy. The PoS team wants you to feel confident that the price you are shown on shelf tags and signs is what you will pay at the register. If you ever do find an error in our system we will gladly honor the lowest price listed.

Easy & efficient

The IT department has been slowly growing at the Co-op and now includes two dedicated staff members as well as myself working for an estimated 80 hours a week on the organization’s computer hardware, software and network systems as well as our phone systems and other lesser techno-gear. Your Co-op is one of a relative handful of ‘leaders’ in the area of IT among the hundreds of food co-ops in the nation. We use information technology extensively in attempts to save labor, improve communications, and learn more about our business.

A few of the unique aspects of our business in the realm of IT are that we have owners not simply shoppers (this makes many of our data management needs unique) and that we have no ‘corporate headquarters’ doling out tools to us. The members of the IT team have written software, automated work flows, established network communications with our second building, and generally ensured reliable computing experiences to the staff of the Co-op

Future articles

That’s it for my overview. If you have questions about any of this or about how we do some particular thing at the Co-op, please don’t hesitate to ask. Who knows, our answer to your wonderings may end up in a future column in this space.