If you are like me, you still view 1221 Williamson Street as the “new” Willy Street Co-op location. When I joined, we hadn’t even expanded into the other half of the building at 1202 Willy St. The move across the street, and now our expansion into Middleton, are proof positive that we are doing this cooperative model right. We are doing it so well, in fact, that we are now embarking on a remodel of Willy East.
During discussions at the management and Board levels leading up to the decision to go ahead with a remodel, we tried to think strategically about our future growth. Now that we have a successful second location underway, where do we want to go now? What do we want to look like in five or ten years?
Your Board of Directors has been thinking and talking about growth for a while now. We want to ensure that the Co-op maintains the same level of commitment to the Cooperative Principles, the same approach to local, sustainable food systems, the same ensuring of a quality Owner experience. One of the ways we can do that, and expand our ability to foster the values that drive our business, is to continue to grow our operations.
Since opening Willy West, we have increased from $20 million in annual sales to $35 million. This allows us to pursue projects like the Community Shares program or providing $25,000 in small grants to local non-profits. However, this increase in sales has put pressure on our stores. Higher sales means more shoppers, more frequent visits, higher turnover of products on the shelves—and all within the same square footage.
Hence the remodel at Willy East. To ensure that any revamping work actually achieves our goals, we needed to consider the total context within which we’d be working. With the new developments on East Washington, and other development proposals around town, the Co-op has been approached many times by Owners about including the Co-op in those proposals and in other neighborhoods. We also recognize that the opening of Willy West has not reduced overall sales volume and number of shoppers at Willy East to the extent we’d thought it would. Can we address both of these issues with our remodel?
Given our limits on expanding outward at Willy East and structural limitations preventing us from expanding upward, we realized that we need to think more broadly. So the Board decided to approve a two-part resolution, authorizing staff to move ahead with the remodel and to simultaneously begin scoping out possible locations for—drumroll, please!—a third location.
We did not anticipate thinking about a third location so soon after opening Willy West—but we did not know that you all would love that store so much you would make it profitable in its second year! With that profitability and our new understanding of what it takes to open a store from scratch, we have decided that the best way to meet our multiple goals is to continue growing—to provide more and better shopping opportunities for Owners and shoppers, to be able to provide more community support through grants and loans, and to introduce new audiences to the benefits and beauty of the cooperative grocery model.