On January 25th, the Co-op announced publicly that we are researching whether the location of Pierce’s Northside Market would be a viable third store site for us. This information was also published in our February Reader. While no decision has been made at this time, we have heard from many Owners and members of the community regarding this project via emails, customer comments dropped at the stores, our website, Facebook, and Twitter. At the time of writing, we had already responded to comments and inquires from 307 people. The information shared has been very helpful and overwhelmingly supportive of our preliminary research. Statistically, here’s some of what we have noted about these comments so far:
- 225 of the comments, from what we can tell by the information provided, are from Owners. 63 are from non-owners and 19 have either been from northside businesses or anonymous.
- 278 comments (about 91%) were entirely positive and supportive. Only two (2) comments that we received were outright against the northside location. Five (5) comments shared both positive and negative aspects of the project for us to consider. Seven (7) comments were from customers who would prefer a different location, or a another location in addition to a northside location. 15 comments shared feedback, questions or ideas without giving a positive or negative response.
- 19 people or businesses specifically offered their assistance with this project, by reaching out to the community, offering gift Ownerships to our potential new neighbors, and inviting us to use space and time to talk to groups in the neighborhood.
That’s a tremendous response and we are grateful! Considering that, according to Harvard Business Review, only 25% of customers typically share positive feedback (compared to the 65% likelihood of sharing negative feedback), we are especially appreciative of the community taking time out of busy lives to respond so favorably thus far. Here’s a summary of some of the most common feedback we have received and some of our responses.
Product Selection and Pricing
The care expressed by our Owners and the community for each other in the feedback we have received has been heartwarming, rewarding, and extremely helpful to read. One thing that is becoming abundantly clear is that if we add the Pierce’s location, we will be servicing a community that looks out for each other, and cares about the food they can put on their dinner tables. Co-op Principle #7, Concern for the Community, is very healthy in our Ownership, and on the northside.
Overwhelmingly, commenters discussed food, product and access with us. These words came up 404 times in a word search of the comment files. Additionally, the words “conventional,” “organic,” and “natural”came up 133 times. This isn’t surprising, as we have already noted in staff discussions around a third store that the two most important parts of our Co-op are people and products. Here’s what that means to us:
Our Board Ends Policy states that a robust local economy is built around equitable relationships. Serving neighborhoods and serving people with a variety of income levels has always been important at the Co-op. Carrying products that are not certified organic, or products that are considered “conventional” is nothing new—we have been doing this since Willy East was the sole location. The mix of certified organic and conventional product has fluctuated based on a number of things including the requests from our Owners at each location, pricing, availability, sales numbers, and giving preference to local procurement over organic certification. The product mix at Willy East and Willy West already differs to meet the needs and wants of the different people who shop at each. We would do the same kind of tailor-made product selection no matter where we locate our third store. In the case of the northside location in question, we would review the sales at the current store, reach out to the neighborhood for feedback, and start with a product mix that includes products the neighborhood currently enjoys in addition to what we already offer at our other locations.
Providing fairly priced products to support accessibility for all in our community is part of our Food and Product Selection Philosophy. We monitor our pricing by doing periodic comparisons with other local grocers. We are specifically doing price checks with Pierce’s current offerings, and we’re finding that since we are a similarly sized store, we will be able to provide many similar items at comparable prices. Our Director of Purchasing, Megan Minnick, also noted “when you compare like products (for example fair trade, organic, and/or local), we are quite competitively priced. This is especially true when you consider the pricing available in our bulk aisle… We’ve found that our Co-op Deals specials are significantly better than the promotions our competitors regularly run, making these some of the best deals you’ll find anywhere on organic and natural foods.” Opening a third store may assist with building our economy of scale for all three locations, which will help us keep all of our prices competitive or better in the marketplace.
Ownership, Access, FoodShare and WIC
In addition to questions about product selection and price, we received quite a few questions about the cost of Ownership, the Access Discount, FoodShare, and the State of Wisconsin Women, Infants and Children program (WIC).
Anyone can shop in our store and anyone can become an Owner. The Ownership investment will be extended to a third store! There are lots of reasons to invest in Ownership, including exemption from the 5% surcharge on purchases for non-owners, and enjoying Owner Rewards sales. Ownership equity can be withdrawn and refunded or donated to charity at any time. An individual Ownership is $56 and a household Ownership is $91. This is a one-time fee, and it can also be broken up into seven (7) annual payments if that is more affordable. We also offer our Access Discount Program to new and existing Owners who have a financial need. With the Access Discount, you can shop with a 10% discount to buy food and other products at the Co-op, and pay off the equity investment for a longer time and for as little as $4 per year while enrolled in the program. We also offer gift Ownerships for those who would like to give either a partial or full Ownership investment to others.
Both our East and West locations accept FoodShare (the QUEST Card) from all shoppers as will any new location. We also host Second Harvest FoodShare specialists monthly at both stores to help customers learn about eligibility, get one-on-one application assistance, report changes or submit renewals. In March, FairShare CSA Coalition will be available during these sessions, so that people using FoodShare can learn how to use QUEST for CSA purchases if they like, and to learn about the Partner Shares program.
Currently, our East and West locations are not part of WIC, though we are investigating licensing to accept WIC payments at the possible northside location. Pierce’s currently offers WIC and we believe it may be important to retain that offering for those who are participating in the program. The certification process is complex and requires us to carry very specific types and quantities of products. We will keep everyone posted on whether WIC could be an option at a third store.
Hiring From The Community
A word search from the comments we have received shows “employee” and “staff” appearing, so far, 57 times. Quite a few people have requested that (if we proceed) we work with Pierce’s existing staff and hire from the nearby neighborhood. We agree that helping people remain employed and hiring from the local community would be important to the success of opening a northside store (or any location that we would select). While we are in the process of drafting a potential staffing scenario for this location, we have more work to do before we can provide greater detail regarding how many and what positions may be available. We know for sure that we would notify and encourage Pierce’s employees seeking jobs to apply at the Co-op, that we would encourage our own staff who may be interested in jobs at a new location to apply (noteworthy: some live on the north side), and that we would also work with neighborhood organizations to recruit applicants from the local vicinity as part of the hiring process. If some existing staff relocate to the new store, then positions will open up at our other sites as well.
Can We Afford A Third Location?
Some Owners questioned whether we can afford a third store right now, since Fiscal Year 2015 did not end with a profit. In the February Reader, General Manager Anya Firszt reported a profitable second quarter for Fiscal Year 2016, and in the past month, profit share was approved for our hard-working staff. We are still assessing whether this opportunity is right for us and making a fiscally sound decision is one of the most important parts of that review.
NorthSide Location May Be Convenient for Many
While some customers did request that we still consider other locations, we heard from many that this location would be great. We also heard it may be more convenient based on where customers lived, worked, or commuted. Customers noted that this location may service people from Waunakee, DeForest, Sun Prairie, Windsor, Maple Bluff, and Westport in addition to the neighborhoods in the 53704 zip code (where 4,646 active Owners currently reside).
Did We Consider Other Locations?
Customers who did ask for a different or additional location suggested a Co-op on Madison’s South Side, on Cottage Grove Road (in Madison), in Sun Prairie, Fitchburg, Verona, in the Allied Drive neighborhood (in Madison), Waunakee, Whitewater, Monona, in Iowa County and in a different space on the northside. One person also suggested that they would prefer to see us build a new store than renovate an existing one.
We looked at many locations, and since no plans have been finalized, we are still considering some of those locations. We recognize that there are lots of potential neighborhoods that would enjoy a Willy Street Co-op and we are thrilled that people have advocated for their own parts of town. Based on what we asked Owners to vote on in 2014 and the finances of being a mid-sized local business, we may only choose one location for expansion at this time.
It’s not an easy choice and there are many factors: sometimes the site doesn’t meet our criteria to serve current Owners and the community as well as other locations; sometimes there isn’t a viable location in a neighborhood where we have been asked to look; sometimes the proposed leasing or financing, or the price for renovating or building-out the location is prohibitive; and sometimes we have talked with communities we have looked at and agreed to provide different support to their neighborhoods by assisting their efforts to open their own stores, for example. We appreciate all the feedback we’ve received since 2014 regarding where we locate, and it has been very helpful in considering where to look for spaces.
Thank You for Your Support and Feedback!