Product Offering at the Bisman Community Food Co-op

*Originally emailed to membership 3/9/2017

One of the key items of discussion at our recent member listen session was the types and consistency of the products our members are seeing on the shelves.  Some items might be stocked one week, and out of stock at another time.  There have also been changes in the products stocked on a permanent basis.  We are aware of the concerns over the policy guiding the coop's purchasing.  Our interim co-managers have been working overtime trying to develop a consistent purchasing system and responding to member concerns.  That said, one of the things that the Board has recently become aware of-and something that we all need to be aware of-is that with almost 3,000 members, our membership will not always agree on what the coop should be carrying. This is a challenge that every coop faces. For example, some of our members believe that buying local should be the top priority, while others believe methods of production are the most significant concern. All the while, maintaining access to healthy food with prices that are affordable is important as well. While you can rest assured that you will never find a McDonald's setting up next to the deli, please keep in mind that there is diversity of opinion amongst our members in terms of priorities.

Based on this initial feedback, we have formed a committee tasked with developing a food purchasing policy that will help guide our management in their purchasing decisions to best serve our memberships' needs. One of our active members generously volunteered to help the board develop a survey for members, which you will see in the near future.  This is one of the great strengths of our store-it allows us to be democratic in a way that is simply not possible with a different type of grocery store through active member engagement. As we work toward development of a food policy, we welcome all feedback. We also ask our members to bear in the mind that there is not necessarily complete agreement among membership as to what our priorities should be. 

In cooperative solidarity,

Your Bisman Community Food Coop Board of Directors

If you're interested in the Food Policy Committee, please email kayla.pulvermacher@gmail.com

An Update on Our Search for a New General Manager

*Originally emailed to membership 3/6/2017

One of our primary focuses in recent months has been our search for a new general manager, which in many ways goes hand in hand with addressing the financial challenges we previously communicated to you.  We are forced with a bit of a chicken or egg situation where we would like to improve the financial strength of the coop so that we can entice a strong general manager to join, but simultaneously recognize that we truly need a strong general manager in order to fully address the financial issues.  We have been actively interviewing candidates, and while we had identified a very strong candidate and have been engaged in significant negotiations, it is difficult for us commit to a significant salary requirement given the financial condition of the coop.  That said, our top priority right now is identifying and hiring a new general manager, and we will continue to focus our energy on this goal until we have someone on board to lead us forward. If any members have leads on a strong candidate who might be interested, please have that person contact one of the board members.

In cooperative solidarity,

Your Bisman Community Food Coop Board of Directors

Financial Status of Our Co-op and Call to Action

*Originally emailed to membership on 3/5/17

As a part of our commitment to keeping you better informed, we would like to give you a status report on the financial health of our coop. It is perhaps the greatest challenge facing us right now.  The coop is doing very well with respect to increasing sales and revenue, however we are trying to get over one major hurdle:  In October, the board discovered that it had not been informed of significant cost overruns for the build-out of the coop, in excess of $300,000.  In addition, the board also discovered that numerous invoices had not been properly input into the coop's accounting software, and therefore were not appearing on the profit and loss and balance sheets. Of course, financial hurdles are common to startups, but this was a significant revelation that came at a time when the coop, like most start-up coops, was very vulnerable.  Board members and management have been working diligently trying to overcome this unexpected difficulty.  There is no doubt that this was serious blow to our financial health and one that is going to take all of us to fix.  

We have been working with our lenders to obtain extensions and new amortization schedules for coop debt to give us extra breathing room, and have also worked with vendors to obtain payment plans for some of our significant accounts payable that were discovered several months ago, and which the coop has not yet been able to pay down.  The current account payable amount is approximately $175,000.  While these numbers sound significant, and they are, our sales are equally significant.  Recent weekly sales were at $68,000, and are projected to increase to $70,000.  Although we are not yet making significant profits with these sales, they are on track with projections for a start-up cooperative such as ours.  We are also planning a campaign to bring in new members in the very new future. More details will be coming soon.

Presently, the most helpful thing our members can do is to help us increase these sales, and thereby increase our revenue.  Small things, such as meeting someone for lunch at the coop, planning meals for a month and buying all your groceries at the coop, and encouraging your friends and family to become members or just shop at the coop can help significantly if we all put in that effort. We are aware that there are still a number of people in the community who haven't had a chance to visit the store yet, so encouraging friends and family to check out all that the store has to offer could particularly make a big difference.

We continue to dedicate ourselves to the future of your coop, and we are doing our best to make it a place you are all proud to call your own.

In cooperative solidarity,

Your Bisman Community Food Coop Board of Directors

Communication to Our Member Owners

*Originally emailed to membership 3/4/2017

One of the most frequently voiced concerns we have heard regards our communication with the membership.  Our listening session was a step toward greater communication, and we hope this letter will be another step forward.  We are striving to be transparent and maintain an open line of communication, and if we have not met that goal, please understand that it is the result of our focusing as much energy and time as possible in other areas. Our email addresses are listed on the website, and we truly welcome any and all feedback.  If you prefer to discuss questions or concerns by phone, please feel free to email any of us and we will call you back as promptly as we can.

If you tried to reach out to the co-op earlier and didn't receive a response, we recommend you try again. Some email addresses did not function properly, so please send us an email directly, or ask to speak to someone in the store. While we can't address everything immediately, we are trying our best to make sure that everyone's concerns are heard. We are a community-owned store, and we are all learning together.

In addition, we are also aware that our website is in need of updating.  Hannah Moser, one of your board members, volunteered to work on the website, and others of us have volunteered to work on updating content.  The website needs significant work so that it can be fully utilized as a vehicle for communicating with members, and advertising our coop. Our intent is to provide more regular updates on the site, in addition to email. If you have ideas for content, please let us know. We'd love to hear from you!

Others requests we have heard include better signage in the coop, specifically in the produce department and meat department, and better signage for the menu at the deli.  Long term, these are also items that may need to be addressed by a new general manager, but our current management has also been made aware of these requests and will continue working to improve not only the signage, but the quality and quantity of information communicated to our members about the food for sale in the coop.  We are working on creating better communication with our team in the store so that they have more information about what is for sale at the coop, and about other changes and happenings important for the coop.

In cooperative solidarity,

Your Bisman Community Food Coop Board of Directors

A Letter to Our Members

*Originally emailed to membership 3/3/2017

To our members, our team, and our friends:

We recently held a listening session at which our members shared their thoughts and concerns regarding our food coop.  We want you to know that we hear you, and are working very hard to respond to inquiries and implement changes. We are a purely volunteer board, and most of us have only been at this for a few months. If you don't feel you've heard enough from us lately, please know that it is only because we have been working hard on some immediate and pressing issues facing our coop.

Over the next few days, you will be receiving a series of emails from us covering a number of topics we are currently trying to address:

  • Financial status of our coop and call to action
  • An update on our search for a new General Manager
  • Development of a food policy
  • Increased communication, including website updates

These are just a few of the more pressing issues currently being discussed. As an engaged member of your coop, we hope you will take the time to read about where we are, our plan moving forward and how you can get involved.  

As an example of the power of your shared voice, you may have noticed the increased hours for the deli.  The decision to scale back these hours was a difficult one, based on numbers and traffic in the deli, and the cost of labor to staff it. For a time, management simply couldn't justify keeping it open during off-peak hours.  Several members chose to speak up and voice their opinion, that the deli is often an integral part of their shopping experience, and management has recently announced that it is once again increasing the hours.

The Bisman Community Food Coop is more than just a grocery store.  It is a vision shared by those who believe in the power of community; the power of food to change not only our health, but our economy, our environment, and our very perspective of our place on this planet.  Please remember that whatever difficulties we face, your board members share your vision, and we are working tirelessly on your behalf to project our shared vision across the Northern Plains.

In cooperative solidarity,

Your Bisman Community Food Coop Board of Directors