Update on the state of the Troy Food Co-op

troy food coop now open signFrom the comments, Lou's first-hand account of last night's meeting about problems at the Troy Food Co-op:

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.

Also from the meeting: the co-op says about half of the market's 900 members have been shopping there. But the board's president says the recent media attention had led to the three best shopping days ever at the market this past weekend. [WNYT] [Troy Record]

(Thanks to Lou for the update)

Earlier on AOA
+ Problems at the Troy Food Co-op?
+ A first look at the new Troy Food Co-op

Comments

I wish I could have gone, I'm an owner, and shop there several times a week. I really would have loved to give them a piece of my mind.

It sounds to me like a bunch of housewives that really don't have a clue how to operate a business.

Why is ANYone getting a salary? It's a co-op - it's volunteer. Only one or two people should be receiving compensation...the manager and assistant manager. And that compensation should be minimal...say $15-20,000 annual. If the business is hemorrhaging money, even the managers should forego their pay. It's just common sense.
This isn't a get-rich-quick scheme and no one should be relying on this business to pay the bills or to fetch a giant profit.

@Em, not all co-ops use the same model. The member-worker model is actually an older model, and most new co-ops do not go that route. It costs too much money to train that many people, and they are not as reliable as long-term employees.

The Pioneer Market's model is very different from Honest Weight's. Here is an FAQ sheet with some details about the differences: http://www.troyfoodcoop.com/sites/default/files/faq.pdf

I checked out the Pioneer Market last week and was sorely disappointed by the selection. I expected something like the Honest Weight co-op, where I shop frequently on my lunch hours as I work in the area. I was excited to see something open closer to home.

What I love about Honest Weight is lacking at Pioneer. The bulk foods and spices. The exceptional cheese display with friendly volunteers there to help you sample and choose the right cheese. The prepared foods were OK, but I prefer packaged salads and sandwiches to a hot bar. Honest Weight carries a lot of specialty items you can't buy in regular grocery stores. Organic and locally grown veggies are abundant at Honest Weight, not so much at Pioneer. In fact, Pioneer was like a larger bodega with higher prices.

I shopped at Pioneer today and was very impressed. The store was clean, bright and spacious. I thought the selection was great as well. In their bulk section, I found maple glazed almonds and cocoa dusted almonds - YUM! I bought a loaf of farm bread and some smoked gouda cheese which I brought back to the office - they were gone within the hour (my coworkers LOVED them). I had just stopped in to check it out so I wasn't doing my weekly shopping - but I'm going back with my list. Keep it up Pioneer Market - you're doing great.

Pioneer was like a larger bodega with higher prices.

Let's call a spade a spade: Honest Weight is a specialty foods store that caters to folks with cars and discretionary income. So is the Troy Farmers Market. Nothing wrong with that. I patronize both.

To succeed in the same gravitational field, Pioneer must be something different, which means a product mix that runs more mainstream than those two choices but much less mainstream than chain groceries. The fair comparison is Pioneer to Price Chopper, not Pioneer to Honest Weight.

What's unknown is whether Pioneer can realize its identity and execute fast enough. It has no doubt wasted time and resources in an identity crisis that didn't have to happen.

Frankly, if gaining five local shoppers from any income group means losing one snob who's gonna go to Honest Weight anyway, that's what needs to happen. Sometimes that snob will be me, but delighting me isn't critical to Pioneer's survival -- and I'll still shop there often enough in any case, cuz it's close-by and open till 8:00 every day. But only if it's still in business.

And that's the trick. Whatever one hopes Pioneer could be, it won't get there if it closes.

LQ

What does "exuberant staffing in correction" mean?

What does "exuberant staffing in correction" mean?

Means learning the hard way that you've hired more folks than your business can afford, and adjusting down.

The exuberant part implies that you could've known better in advance, but got all excited and didn't see it.

LQ

@Jen---The Honest Weight didn't become what it is overnight. It grew to include the major cheese selection and speciality foods. And that comes as a price. You don't get that without very knowledgeable paid staff who deserve a good wage and decent benefits. I'm one of the friendly member workers in Cheese, but I was trained by Gustav (also Ken, Drue, and now Tom as dept. manager) and that kind of operation is costly. Even sampling out free cheese "costs" until you get enough people willing to pay for $20+ a lb. cheese. Doesn't sound reasonable that right now any brand new co-op could move that kind of product, or fancy imported specialty foods.

Jenn, I also feel like you are calling out Pioneer for small short comings in comparison to Honest Weight, and that it may turn people off from visiting that haven't been there yet. But I don't think you are justified.

"The bulk foods and spices"
Pioneer has about 30 feet of bulk bins. Honest Weight has about double that. However, before their expansion last year, they had less than that.

"The exceptional cheese display with friendly volunteers there to help you sample and choose the right cheese."
The cheese monger at Pioneer has been behind the counter more than 75% of the times I've gone, and is a really great guy. The last time I was there he offered me two samples. Honest Weight usually has four samples out, and their selection is about twice as big. Still, it's unfair to say they have a bad display and won't help you at Pioneer.

"The prepared foods were OK, but I prefer packaged salads and sandwiches to a hot bar."
Near the dairy section Pioneer carries many of the same sandwiches and salads that Honest Weight does (the ones from Al Baraki and My Lin)

"Honest Weight carries a lot of specialty items you can't buy in regular grocery stores."
So does Pioneer, but as Lou and I mentioned before, the Pioneer model is also geared towards the local neighborhood, and therefore also has conventional items.

"Organic and locally grown veggies are abundant at Honest Weight, not so much at Pioneer." Again, this is more of a space issue than a selection issue. IMHO, Pioneer has an appropriate amount of local and organic veggies, and often have both a conventional and local/organic option with an appropriate price difference.

Your entitled to your opinion, but I think you are making the situation out to be worse than it actually is.

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