Hello, as the new president of the Board of Directors, I am so excited that my first announcement to the membership is exceptional news: this April, after a year of talking with management and members, the Board committed to expanding the Co-op!
How did we arrive at that decision? A year ago, our General Manager, Tim Bartlett came to the Board and asked us to start thinking about what is next for the Co-op. “The parking lot and hot bar are crowded, the registers are jammed at rush hour, and we are growing in double digits. We need to start talking about expansion,” he told us. In response, the Board began discussing broadly our long-range plans, and studying the possibility of expanding Co-op services. At our annual summer and fall meetings we held two open brainstorming sessions with owners, receiving a wide range of constructive and creative ideas on what the Co-op of the future could look like and members role in it. We spent this spring studying many of those member-generated ideas in more detail by examining retail and non-retail initiatives by other co-ops – such as Weavers’ Way’s urban farming venture in Philadelphia, Community Mercantile’s Educational Foundation in Lawrence, Kansas and multi-store co-ops in Seattle and Milwaukee. All of these are successful models, and we’ll continue to explore such possibilities in the long term. However, we recognized that given the member needs seen and heard every day at our bustling store, our primary focus should be improving upon what we do best, and expanding our core retail services.
The Co-op has thrived on Elmwood Avenue for the past 6 years, and is bursting at the seams. We are now the 17th busiest co-op in the country, as measured by sales per square foot. Daily, we receive requests from owners for more choices in deli and grocery, more parking, and a place inside to sit and eat their lunch.
By 2015, our goal is to have twice as much retail space and a greater ability to serve the membership and the community. What does this mean? We are exploring two primary options: additional locations and a larger store in the Elmwood Village. We want to make sure that whatever we do meets the needs of our members. Therefore, over the next six months, we will seek to engage with all of our 7,500 members to create a shared vision for expansion that every owner understands, has helped to create, and that knocks your socks off!
We need your help to make all this happen. Starting this summer and fall, we need to hear from you about your vision of the Co-op of the future. Continual building and refinement of our shared vision is an essential component of what will be a multi-year expansion process that will go through many different stages. Sometime next winter, we expect to offer competitive loans to raise capital and we will ask for your participation in the loan campaign. And once we expand (in whatever form it takes), we will need you to use the Co-op, tell your friends about it, and provide the leadership needed to ensure another 40 years of community driven success and service.
Developing a shared vision is a critical piece of this process and we will not commit to any project without strong member support. We must also ensure the long-term financial health and wellbeing of our cooperative. The board and management will be diligently exploring the feasibility of different options, checking financial assumptions, assessing site opportunities, discussing financing with potential lenders, and working with store designers and architects. Our job is to find the option that best reflects the members’ shared vision and allows the co-op to thrive and improve services for an ever growing membership. We take this responsibility very seriously.
I know that this update is light on specifics and that’s because we are at the very beginning stages of this process. As we know more, we will share more with you. One important thing to note though, because securing real estate is competitive we won’t be able to share as many details about specific locations as we all might like. Please know that understanding owner preferences and concerns regarding potential expansion locations is a top priority for us.
I hope you’re excited about what expansion means for you, our local and cooperative economy, and your store. Please let us know what you think! What would you like to see us do/add/grow? Email the Co-op expansion team (our Board & managers) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fill out an expansion input form – now available at the registers and on our website www.lexington.coop. Participate in the summer and fall meetings. Your strong support of the Lexington Co-op is what got us to this point, and I am looking forward to hearing from you about your vision for our future!
Expanding the Co-op Timeline Stage 1: Feasibility 1- 3 years Activities in this stage fall into three areas; commitment & planning, strengthening & positioning, and site search and securing. The Owners role in this stage includes participating in discussions to build a shared vision and participating in capital campaigns and loan drives. Stage 1 ends when the Board signs a lease or purchase agreement with contingencies. Stage 2: Preparing for Leasehold Improvements or Construction 3-12 months Activities in this stage include finalizing design and financing for the expanded co-op. The Owners role in this stage includes participating in discussions on building designs, and participating in capital campaigns and loan drives. Stage 2 ends when the Board removes contingencies and closes on financing. There is no turning back at this point. Stage 3: Leasehold Improvements/Construction 3-9 months Activities in this stage include ordering equipment and hiring staff. The Owners role in this stage includes shopping at the Co-op & promoting it in the community. Stage 3 ends when the contractors are finished with their work. Stage 4: Prepare for Opening 30-60 days Activities in this stage include stocking products, testing equipment and training staff. The Owners role in this stage includes celebrating our expanded co-op. Stage 4 ends when the Co-op opens for business. Stage 5: Meet the Owners Needs The Owners role in this stage includes shopping, leading, promoting and financing the Co-op. Hopefully, Stage 5 never ends.