Problems at the Troy Food Co-op?

troy food coop now open signProblems at the Troy Food Co-op?

From a recent email sent out to Troy food co-op members:

The cold hard fact is that in October, only 38% of sales came from you. When we began this journey in September 2005, we knew our business success depended on sales from the Co-op's owners who invested dollars and volunteer time. As our financial situation continues to worsen, we're wondering where YOUR shopping dollars are. We need all of you, the owners, to spend a minimum of $30.00/week (or more!) to meet our weekly sales requirement to remain viable.

There's a co-op meeting coming up next Wednesday at Christ Church on State Street in Troy to get input on the situation.

It's sad to hear the co-op might be having problems. The market just opened in October -- pretty much everything we've heard about it has been generally positive. And downtown Troy really needed a supermarket.

Update December 10: the head of the co-op's board of directors tells Chris Churchill: "We're laden with debt, and we knew we would be ... But we thought we could depend on our members to help us make our sales figures and that has not happened." She also said the co-op was planning on getting a loan that hasn't come about. [TU]

Earlier on AOA: A first look at the new Troy Food Co-op

(Thanks, person who forwarded us this)


I'm an owner at the Co-op and I do shop there whenever I can - typically once a week for a few odds and ends. The trouble is their stock is still pretty limited for every day items. I can get milk and eggs but not necessarily everything I'm looking for to stock my house. To be honest, I'm probably LESS likely to shop there if I keep getting guilt tripped via regular emails. #justsayin

Yes. the co-op is great! It's beautiful, and has so many food options! Please come check it out if you haven't already!!

Wayy to cheer on your members, TFC! Did they take their marketing class from Debbie Downer?

(Hint: try "Thank you so much for your membership! During these rough economic times we need your support now more than ever! We offer one of the area's best selections of X,Y and Z! Stop by today!")

I am also an owner, and sent an email echoing Lisa Barone's sentiments.

I do the vast majority of my shopping there, I live in the neighborhood, and I want to see it succeed.

However, it only opened in October, if they're already in dire straits, then they were never properly capitalized...You shouldn't expect overnight success in retail, especially in retail in a long dormat part of town.

I'm a "member-owner" too, live three blocks away, shop there whenever it makes sense and really want Pioneer to succeed.

To elevate my support, I need data. Operational data, management data and planning data, everything but personnel data. Any number of attributes and clues suggest there are viability flaws in the project. While opening the doors was an evolutionary step, it might've been a step toward destined flame-out.

We just don't know much about how Pioneer is run. If it's on a month-to-month fuse, the time for sunshine is now: tons of sunshine, right away. Bright and energetic people are ready to help, but, if they're like me, they've no time for fealty and simply want to see the books. Hopefully the Wednesday meeting is more than a pep rally.

OTOH, maybe the recent message is mis-worded, things aren't so dire, and there are twelve months of operational expense in the bank. That'd be great, cuz momentum takes time. We just don't know.


(also an owner)

I've found the stock has gotten a bit better. For instance, today there were many more flavors of Stoneybrook Farms Yogurts in quarts then there was just a few weeks ago.

I must admit that I was much more excited when I worked downtown, but we're still trying to make it our first shopping point and fill in at the big stores. Finding several non organic vegetables is making that easier and easier. We pick and choose where we go local / organic, and just can't do everything. Dairy,some produce like garlic (from Troy! :), and the occasional piece of meat are about our limits. So being able to buy conventional fennel, spinach, jalapenos, etc has helped me justify the trip quite a bit.

Finally, the Boar's Head deli is pretty good. They seem to be running it as a loss leader this month, since they are beating chopper on price. We don't buy a ton of cold cuts, and way prefer the home made turkey at Mascellis, Greulich's, or others, but the Boar's Head meats are good.

I hope it succeeds.

Perhaps it's a bit of a downer to hear that things aren't going so well. Yet in a cooperatively owned situation where the investors are what keeps it viable, it's better to be honest with them than not. Sure, any business takes time to grow but if they were counting on the people who helped open it to spend their money there and they're not.... well, who do you reach out to? Hopefully the owners can keep an open mind and find a way that works for them to support it.

Dunno what the business model is here, but it couldn't hurt to advertise a bit. Lots of folks who live and work in Troy have no idea there's a grocery store downtown. But maybe guilt- tripping supporters is the way to go. You're the experts...

Being a member of the Honest Weight Food Co-op, I was excited to see the Troy one open up and to see what they had for consumers. I have to say, I was HORRIBLY surprised by the lack of choice in local product and saw that 90% of the store were things I could find at a Price Chopper (even a nasty one). I was happy to see a vast variety of organic produce, but very slim choices in the local section. Yes, not all the produce can be local at this time of year, but the majority was from across the country, and I was very disappointed in that.

Also, I expected that they wouldn't stock foods laden in high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils like Honest Weight, but again I was sadly surprised.

@abby - totally agree! I want to support local businesses, but if that's the way you're going to market to us, thank you, I will remain an Honest Weight member only.

Being a member of the Honest Weight Food Co-op ...

I think Honest Weight is a fine success, and I drive there often from Troy. My reasons are apolitical. I like buying certain good-quality bulk items in the quantity I need (avoiding waste), and I like good prices on certain items that command import prices elsewhere. Fair-trade and organic and local only matter to me if they deliver value for money.

I burn gasoline and time to buy stuff at Honest Weight that frankly I can live without. Honest Weight knows it cannot survive without folks like me, in some measure, and that's why it succeeds. True believers are not enough.

Likewise, the Troy effort will succeed only if it tailors to its natural market.

These are folks have never been to Honest Weight. They don't drive (they take cabs), and there's nowhere to park anyhow. They walk across the Congress Street Bridge to the Price Chopper in Watervliet. They live in public housing. They will favor an alternative that delivers convenience, respect, value, quantity choice and quality -- in that order. Crunchy does not figure. It's a side benefit, silently mixed.

Pioneer Market (that's the name it should use, consistently, with no mention of "co-op") needs to get off the fence, stop speaking to well-off folks like me, and become the grocery store of preference for the majority of folks living within a quarter-mile. We can learn what our real market likes and needs, and color the stock with local and unprocessed when it fits.

Start here: (1) Boar's Head is bad value and a rookie retailing mistake that everybody learns eventually; (2) more than two expensive coffees won't move; (3) tack paper ads to housing-project common areas. Push down-market, hard and fast, with gentle up-market touches that speak to universal ambitions.


Meeting report:

Maybe this kind of org needs to have low-information, booster-ish meetings. Maybe that's just an expected part of the formula. Dunno.

Reading between the lines, the takeaways are:

* Sales to members were over-projected by quite a lot. Members are now asked to actively adapt their shopping habits and "Buy co-op first." That's fine, and I'll do it, but this wasn't acknowledged as a [bad and predictable] misjudgment. Of course many members join only to register support, probably more than half. A simple Zip Code analysis would have revealed the subset of "member-owners" capable of being reliable patrons. Member affluence is also seemingly over-estimated, as if each represents a suburban multi-person household. Blue skies and granola, baby.

* There are boons in the pipeline. Certain loans and grants are in play, as is assistance from regional co-ops. This is good, cuz it's all about getting over the fiscal sustainability hump before the clock runs out. Outreach to lower-income and hyper-local populations hasn't gotten off the ground yet, so the true sweet spot is still out there to capture.

* Short revenue currently eats payroll. This tells two tales: exuberant staffing in correction, and some room for additional cost cutting. Sounds like there are still some bucks to carve out of payroll if the road to equilibrium demands it. Probably will.

So, much as I dislike the Kool-aid management model, Buy Co-op First. Sounds like the hump can maybe be cleared, but it'll take immediate membership purchasing support, starting now.

WNYT was at the meeting, but hasn't yet posted video to its website.


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