August 2009

Volume 25, Issue 5
The FireStarter

This Special Edition of the FireStarter has been created for you by
the Board of Directors, the Discount Committee, and Co-op Management.
first posted online August 18, with a few small changes on August 25th

The History – The Problem – and A Solution!

History (from a fiscal point of view)
In the beginning the Tonasket Co-op was--well, it was cooperative. It was like a big family working together. Members of the community had gathered together and started the Co-op together, donating materials, time, energy, and money to get it going.

Co-op members worked in the store and managed the store. They created the garden and built the shelves, painted the walls, put on a new roof, laid the floors. They kept the Co-op supplied with firewood every year. They changed their babies in the basement, gathered in the garden, met their friends in the bulk food section, and paraded in the Founder’s Day parade. They ran the Barter Fair and the fair donated money back to the Co-op. They worked together as a community and gave much time and energy to the Co-op, and it was sweet.

And because they were volunteering as wood splitters, as carpenters, gardeners, cleaners, stockers and cashiers, the store didn’t have to pay for most of those jobs. And the store gave a 5% discount to all the members because it seemed the right thing to do. And it was, because so many of the members were very much involved in making the Co-op a success.

Problem
Well, sort of a success. There were years that the Co-op didn’t make a profit, or made very little profit. Some years the store was seriously in the hole and bake sales and rummage sales and benefits and auctions were necessary. The Barter Faire’s help was absolutely vital –not for new equipment most of the time (because we didn’t GET new equipment) but just to keep the doors open. And this was back when the Co-op had a virtual monopoly on organic foods!

But as you all know, times have changed. Safeway and IGA and WalMart all carry lines of "organic" foods, now. The economy is very different than it was 32 years ago. And so is the membership of the Co-op. There are still some members donating their time and energy to the store, especially in the areas of construction, maintenance and the garden. But there are only two temporary volunteer workers now, each working 4 hours a week.

The store has had to buy its firewood the past several year--nobody brings it any more. This year the Co-op wasn’t represented in the Parade in June--nobody showed up. Some years the Americorp staff has cleaned the highway for the Co-op without any volunteers from the Membership.

And this is OK! Lives change, everyone is busy, we have new members with different lifestyles and no time or interest in volunteering. And that is just fine. It really is. We value every one of our members, no matter what. But things have changed...and the Co-op has to change too.

With all the staff people and managers having to be paid, when the store has to buy equipment instead of having it donated, when the store has to pay out cash for the firewood, and when after 32 years the store is STILL dependent on the Barter Faire to keep its doors open, it is clear that something is wrong.

You know that the Co-op belongs to the Membership. Membership fees were what got it started, and they mean that you are cooperative OWNERS of the store. You elect a Board of Directors because it’s a state requirement for a Co-op. The state says the Board is responsible for making sure the store is financially solvent and to "ensure its continuation"--meaning, of course, to keep the store open for you! The Manager of the store is there to run the store, and to keep the Board informed about what’s going on.

The store managers have been telling the Board and the Membership for several years that there is a problem. It’s been brought up frequently at Membership meetings. Nobody wanted to make the changes that were necessary. But this year, your Board of Directors decided that if they were responsible for keeping the store open, they’d better DO SOMETHING. So, first they did some research.

This is what they found: In most businesses, if there are people who have invested in it, they get a dividend every year--a percentage of the profit the store has made that year, after all the expenses are paid. If the business doesn’t make a profit, the investors don’t get a dividend, because there wasn’t any money left over after the suppliers and the maintenance and the staff were paid. In a good business, this is how it is done..

But not at the Tonasket Co-op. By giving members a 5% discount at the cash register when purchases are made, the store is doing just the opposite–it is paying the Membership (the investors) BEFORE it pays its expenses--before it even knows whether it has made enough money to pay the expenses!. Even worse, it actually is doing it with the knowledge that it may NOT make a profit, and that it will need help from the Barter Faire--or a fundraiser--to help pay the bills.

Last year the Co-op gave almost $19,000 back to members during the year in the form of the 5% discount, and at the end of the year discovered that it was nearly $25,000 in the red before the OFF grant of $12,000! You can see that this is NOT a fiscally responsible way to run the store.

Especially when you remember that the “profit” is what the store uses to buy equipment, make repairs to the plumbing, heating and electrical systems, maintain the coolers, freezers, and deli equipment, and maintain the floors, walls, ceilings, windows, roof, and signs. Had the store not lost money last year, it could have repaired the damaged flooring, paid for a new produce cooler, purchased a beer & wine cooler, new toaster ovens, and a better stove for the deli kitchen.

Members worked many hours to hold the auction last spring that paid for some of these items, but many are still on the “needed” list and if more equipment needs to be replaced, the list will only be longer.

Solution
What to do? The Board discovered that the Tonasket Co-op is not alone with this problem. Co-ops all over the country have found themselves in the same fix, and have had to take steps to change their business practices. It hasn’t been easy! But with the patience and understanding of their members, they made the necessary changes and have been able to grow, to become more profitable, to give their members more services and more products to buy, and--best of all--to keep their doors open!

What all the other co-ops have done is to change the discount process. There are many different ways to do this, depending on the size of the store, whether their cash registers are computerized, how many cashiers they have, the volume of sales in the store, and so on. This summer the Board and an ad hoc Discount Committee of members met several times to try to decide what would work best for the Tonasket Co-op and its members. They considered a lot of options. It was a very difficult decision.

It was reluctantly agreed by the Committee and Board that the 5% discount at the till would have to be changed. It didn’t make good business sense to continue it. But many Board and community members were concerned about members who truly needed the discount in order to shop at the Co-op, and they were determined to make provision for these members.

AND SO, at the regular July meeting, the Board of Directors voted unanimously that, effective September 1, 2009, the store will stop giving the 5% discount at the cash register. However, every member will be issued a Discount Card, that they can use once a month–and this card will give a TEN percent discount on all discountable items purchased at one time. Also, the store will be giving better rates to volunteers, allowing them to work fewer hours, with it being possible to get up to a 20% discount. In addition, there will be regular Member-Only sales and management has negotiated a discount for Co-op members at the Evolution Health and Fitness Center next door. And we have kept the pre-paid bulk ordering polict at 15% above cost for members.

Another recommendation from the Discount Committee and Management was to change the senior member policy. Since the beginning, seniors over 60 were given free membership. This means they were receiving their discount and dividend without investing financially. The proposed by-law change will raise the age to 65 and their member investment will be one half of the current membership fee, which at this time is $50.

It’s not a perfect solution. If you need the discount, it will take some planning to do most of your shopping on one day a month. On the other hand, you’ll get double the amount of discount that you did before! It’s a compromise that has worked for other co-ops. Hopefully it will help the store to get into a better financial position and won’t be a serious hardship to most members. And as the economy improves and the store makes a profit, things could change. The Board and Management are going to do their best to make this happen.

Need more information? See the new DISCOUNT POLICY sheet. Talk to Alice or Julie. Call up one of the Board members, who will be happy to discuss this with you. It is the Board’s responsibility and mission to keep the store open--and to make it work for you. Let us know how we’re doing.

Sincerely,
The Board of Directors and the Management of the Tonasket Co-op

X O X O X Thank You Alice and Julie! X O X O X

Congratulations, Thanks and Praise on the ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of Alice Simon as Manager of the Tonasket Natural Foods Co-op. We’re also celebrating Julie’s presence, for stepping in during the transition of managers in July 2008, and then as the Assistant Manager.

Honorable mentions go to staff members Sandra, Sheila and Amy, for having made the transition this past year as well. Thanks and praise, also, to all the staff for their flexibility, dedication, courtesy, humor & heart for the Co-op and its customers this past year.

Alice has been a tremendous boon to the Co-op since her arrival. She has been tireless in her commitment to energizing the store, making it more accessible, functional and self-supporting, and she has been remarkably successful. Among her accomplishments are reworking the Deli menu, including upgrading sandwiches, introduction of Panini’s and a wider variety of gourmet cheeses; strengthening marketing tactics, including updated signs in, on and around the store; expansion to a 3-door freezer; offering a greater selection of frozen foods; an ice cream freezer (oolawee!); and a sandwich prep table to improve deli efficiency (thanks to the Okanogan Family Faire for much of the cost of these items).

Alice took head-on the difficult job of tightening up pricing issues that were far out of line with costs, and she has been a driving force behind the Board regarding fundraising. Alice knows how to get things done, and she keeps at it until it is. The results have been a Deli that finally makes a consistent profit, successful fund-raising events, and a more productive store overall. Her standards about store appearance and providing customer service have resulted in a cleaner, more attractive store, with what we hope is even more friendly and helpful staff.

The challenges have been remarkable, and much more has been accomplished behind the scenes. Alice has shown herself to be a powerfully motivating force behind the evolution of the Co-op, with a great sense of humor and a touch of class to boot.

Of course Alice couldn’t accomplish all these changes in a vacuum. Julie, stepping in to manage the store, was invaluable in setting the stage for a smooth transition, and her long held history and heart for the Co-op has been a wonderful complement to Alice’s high end, fast-paced retail history. For all the times Alice has exclaimed in shock and disbelief at any number of outlandish, and 'unheard of' practices found in the store, Julie has characteristically laughed and quietly explained the many stories. Her presence has represented a reassuring continuity thru the changes; her experience provided education not only for Alice, but a number of new staff members, and customers as well. And we got back her welcoming smile and hugs!

The combination of Alice’s drive to incorporate some effective retail practices into the Co-op, balanced with Julie’s heart for and understanding of the community, has resulted in a dynamic duo. We look forward to seeing more benefits of their management in the future!

Would you like to be a part of a strong, dynamic and proactive Co-op board? Yes? Then come join the Co-op Board of Directors. There are still lots of decisions and changes to be made and this is the place for you to be an integral part in making them--it really feels good to help the Co-op move and grow. One meeting a month, and as a board member you get an extra 10% discount. What’s not to like?!

TWENTY-ONE BENEFITS OF OUR CO-OP

FROM THE MANAGER

~by Alice Simon, Manager

It's been a busy summer for the Co-op. The Janis Bridge detour started out hurting our business until they decided to change it and bring all the traffic onto 4th Street. Then we reaped the benefit of lots of new folks traveling through the area and discovering us! This led to us deciding it was time to update our highway sign south of town to help keep travelers coming our way. It has been completed and looks great and has already brought some business to us.

Our updated brochure was completed and has been distributed to many locations throughout the county, including motels and RV parks. We are also planning to go before the Tonasket city council to get their approval for a Motorist Information sign in town.

The finishing touches have been added to our expanded store area and it looks just wonderful. Many thanks to all who worked on it. This includes a special thanks to Danny Vaughn, Gary Davis, and Dave Kleigman for their skilled work that made it all turn out so well.

You may have noticed our beautiful new outdoor bulletin board in the garden area. Lyman did an excellent job and donated his time and most materials. Thanks so much. This has allowed us to have our windows free of posters but still provide the community with a place to advertise events, etc. We have expanded our housewares department and hope to continue to bring in attractive and functional items.

In addition we got our 1st shipment of new greeting cards in over a year with another on the way. Check out all the great new cards for all occasions.

The deli just got a second Panini grill so they can turn out more Panini a bit quicker. You really should these tasty sandwiches if you haven't already. Stop by the deli and say hi to Sandi and Sandra and try our great lunch offerings.

The long awaited wine and beer license has been applied for and we await final approval. The hope is to have it in place by the fall.

Jaqi left us to return to Alaska to continue her college plans but Stevie has joined us so say hi when you come in and introduce yourself as she is new to the Tonasket area.

As fall approaches we look forward to the change in season, apple and pear harvest, the Barter Faire, and the holidays with family and friends. The Co-op will continue to bring all the best in natural products to you and we thank you for your continued support.

DISCOUNT CHANGES: Effective September 1, 2009

On September 1, Co-op cashiers will issue new 10% Discount Cards to Co-op Members. These cards will be good for a once-a-month 10% discount off all discountable items purchased at one time. This will replace the old 5% discount policy. You will have to show your card to receive your discount, on the day you choose to get it.

Other discount changes include New and Better Volunteer Rates, A Discount at the Evolution Health and Fitness Center, and Special Sales for Members Only

The Bulk Order pricing for Members will remain unchanged. (Orders for bulk items can be placed at 15% above the wholesale cost, plus shipping.)

One Member’s Viewpoint

~by Sandy Vaughn

As a founding and long-term member of the Co-op, I’ve seen it go through many changes. How is this current change going to help keep the Co-op functioning for our community?

When I think of all that the Co-op means to us, it seems unthinkable that the membership would not see the benefit of being able to improve employee wages, increase the ability to expand and offer new services, and see the Co-op really prosper without having to depend on the OFF for subsidies. Of course it might be more expensive to shop at the Co-op if you don’t take advantage of the 10% days or volunteering. But those are very workable options for lowering prices.

We call our store a Co-op, but there has been a definite decrease in volunteering, from stocking shelves to organizing fund-raising events, to being on the board, to helping on highway cleanup. There are those who consistently help where they can, but for a Co-op, our volunteer base is small.

There are many reasons why people can’t or don’t volunteer more--the hard work and many hours it takes to make a life here in the Okanogan, the hours of driving time for many people who live in the surrounding hills, and even the lack of a strong volunteer program at the Co-op. However, money could be seen as a form of volunteering--if you can’t give hours, then why not give energy in the form of money?

The management and board of directors have put a lot of thought into coming up with a fair and creative way to improve the financial picture of our Co-op and I would like to see the Membership support the management and board in their efforts. Let’s give it a try and see how it works!

ANNOUNCING A SPECIAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING
for the purpose of
Voting on a Bylaws Change regarding
Co-op Membership fees for Senior Citizens

Saturday, September 26
in the Garden Room at the Co-op
(Check back for the start time--probably 4 or 4:30 pm)
Email notices will be sent prior to meeting. Email updates@tonasketcoop.com if you would like to receive Co-op Update Emails in future.

Bylaws section currently reads:
ARTICLE ONE: Membership
SECTION1
D. Senior Citizens (over 60) are entitled to free Membership and are exempt from all additional fees.

PROPOSED CHANGE
D. Senior Citizens (over 65) are entitled to Membership at one-half of the current membership fee.

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The Co-op News is published as a service to the members of the Tonasket Natural Foods Co-op.
This Special Edition of the FireStarter was written and edited by the Board of Directors, the Discount Committee, and Co-op Management.
Typesetting & layout by Laura O'Brady. Online version layout by web'trice

Letters and articles are welcome from members. Deadline for articles is the 24th of each month. Please email your submission for consideration to us at .
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