Co-op acknowledges challenges, looks ahead to future

The Co-op has been around for 76 years

A photo of the original Co-op building courtesy of the Bella Coola Museum Archives (Bella Coola Museum photo)

The Bella Coola Consumers Cooperative Association, your Co-op store, just celebrated its 76th year in business and during its recent AGM both the board and staff summed it up in two words: change and perseverance.

“We have persevered through good times and bad,” said newly elected Chair of the Board, Keith Hamilton. “This organization has been serving the needs of the community for a long time.”

The Co-op has indeed been around a long time. In its nearly 80 years of service the store has seen some wild swings in both the local economy and the demographics of the valley. Chantelle Saunders, who became the general manager in September 2018, said it had been a challenging year, but that she was full of gratitude.

“I believe in this establishment and the 76 years you, our members, have managed to keep it open,” she wrote in her 2019 manager’s report.

Saunders’ report also spoke of the challenges of managing the aging infrastructure, both in terms of the physical building and its equipment, while trying to bring up profit margins. The store saw an increase in profit margins in the grocery department but a slight decrease in bakery, hardware, produce and meat. Overall, the store reported a net loss of $127,000 as of July 31, 2019. This was on top of the 2018 net loss of $157,000.

Hamilton said that the corrective measures taken by staff and the board are only just beginning to show up, and that the financial outlook is beginning to improve.

“Our internal numbers at the end of November 2019 (the first four months after the year end, to be included in the July 2020 reporting) show that our net income for those four months is significant and we had achieved at that time almost $100,000 net improvement on the bottom line over the same four months the year before,” Hamilton explained. “This is a clear signal that the turn around is under way.”

Hamilton said that the organization has undergone some major changes in staffing over the past several years but that things have now begun to stabilize. He praised general manager, Chantelle Saunders, saying she has the “full support” of the board for doing an “excellent job under difficult conditions.”

The infrastructure has definitely presented some challenges for the organization, but Hamilton said the board has a plan to begin addressing some of these issues.

“The board is working diligently to find sources of capital to assist us in replacing the aging building envelope, mechanical, electrical systems, flooring, doors, and a pretty long list of other items that are all reaching the end of their useful life together,” said Hamilton. “We believe there is a direct connection to increase the sales and bottom line if we can renew the look and upgrade where we can. Who doesn’t like to shop in an exciting, bright clean new looking store?”

However, the most important message the board wants to drive home is that this “your store.”

“Members are owners as well. This is a community investment that needs to be nurtured,” said board member Ken Morton. “We still remain competitive and provide awesome sales on a weekly basis. There are changes in store layout but we still offer hardware, and large appliances and beds etc,. along with grocery items.”

Hamilton said that the board remains open to community input, and encouraged shoppers to get in touch.

“We appreciate each of our loyal members and continue to work hard to ensure we can satisfy their needs,” said Hamilton. “If any member wishes to make a suggestion or raise a concern they will find general manager Chantelle Saunders, or any of the board members, eager to hear them.”

The board also thanked Peter Fralick, who retired as chair after 24 years of service to the Co-op.

“The Co-op has been around for 76 years, and Peter has been involved for 24 of them,” said Hamilton. “It’s remarkable dedication from one person and he has has our respect, admiration, and gratitude.”

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