My day job involves working with the consumer finance industry. I have been fortunate enough to work with credit unions. As cooperatively owned financial institutions, credit unions are kissing cousins of other cooperatives like Willy Street Co-op. As many Owners know, over the past several months, people from all persuasions have been expressing their anger with Wall Street banks over their plutocratic and anti-consumer actions. As a result, credit unions have been the happy recipient of hundreds of thousands of disgruntled consumers. At my work we have heard that consumers are warming to credit unions because consumers perceive them as a more human and local banking alternative. The situation got me thinking about what this movement means for Willy Street Co-op.
As a member-owned cooperative we compete almost exclusively with investor-owner grocers. While there is no Wall Street equivalent in the grocery sector (okay, maybe Whole Foods), every one of you knows that food is a political and passionate issue. Banking consumers are just now paying attention to the “supply chain” in the financial sector, and organic food consumers have been thinking about this for years and years. While your Co-op serves less than the other 99% claimed by the Occupy Wall Street crowd, we have taken big steps to ensure we can serve a greater part of the population. Not because we wish to be big, but because we think our model creates value to Owners like you AND family farmers, other suppliers and the local community. That’s a much deeper mission than “maximize shareholder value.”
To expand Willy Street Co-op’s goodness, your Board and management team are focused on three long-term strategies:
- Green Energy Initiatives: Owners desire Willy Street Co-op to be a leader in sustainable business practices. They expect us to minimize our impacts on the environment. They look for us to be innovative in our management in the flow of resources.
- Financial Accessibility: Owners express a desire for their Co-op to be more affordable and accessible to all members of the community.
- Create Local Food System: Owners have indicated that developing our local food system is a project that they would like us to consider for the next three to five years. This would involve partnering with organizations with goals in local food system development such as the University of Wisconsin, community organizations and farmers/suppliers to maximize our collective economic impact.
At the end of the day, your Board and management team aim to implement these strategies so that we benefit Owners like you, and also welcome new Owners to occupy their own cooperative.