Columinate Compensation Database: What it tells us about other management positions

Columinate Compensation Database: What it tells us about other management positions

and   |  October 18, 2022

By Carolee Colter

Since its launch in the summer of 2021, the Columinate Compensation Database has gathered a wealth of data on management compensation in food co-ops.,The database covers not only general managers, but also managers on every level, from members of senior leadership teams to department managers in multi-store co-ops.

As I hope this update will make clear, the more that co-ops participate and provide data, the more useful the database becomes to everyone.

Earlier this year, we published a report looking at what the database tells us about the ratio of highest-paid to lowest-paid in co-ops participating in the database:

In this column we will look at the answer to another question frequently asked by boards and general managers (GMs): What is the pay ratio between the GM and the next highest paid position?

Depending on the nature of that second position and the size of the co-op, that ratio ranges from as low as 1 to .96 (where the finance manager of a multi-person department is actually paid more than the GM) to as high as 1 to 2.07 (where the GM is paid twice as much as the bookkeeper/finance manager of a one-person department.) But the vast majority fell within a narrower range of 1:1.27 to 1: 1.49.

The highest paid positions after the GM tend to be managers in finance, human resources (HR), and operations, with fewer examples in grocery and prepared foods. Keep in mind that the lower the ratio, the higher the department manager is paid by comparison with the GM.

Position (under the General Manager)

Average ratio

Finance Manager of multi-person finance department

     1 to 1.21

Bookkeeper/Finance Manager, one-person department

     1 to 1.49

HR Manager of multi-person HR department

     1 to 1.27

HR Manager of one-person department

     1 to 1.28

Store Operations Manager, single store

     1 to 1.30

Director of Operations, multi-store

     1 to 1.69

Grocery Department Manager, single store

     1 to 1.40

Prepared Foods Manager, single or multi-store

     1 to 1.33

In addition, there were a few cases each of marketing managers, IT managers, and front-end managers earning the highest salaries after the GMs of their co-ops.

Beyond considering the relationship to GM pay, the database has accumulated robust numbers for many positions. One of these is the human resources manager, probably because many GMs have taken advantage of the feature in the database that allows them to designate a secondary user. In almost all cases, this additional user is the HR manager, due to their access to the salary information for the other management positions. Also, it’s the HR manager who is usually tasked with researching compensation information.

In addition to HR, senior leadership positions in finance and marketing have many entries, as do department managers in single-store organizations. The positions that still need more data in order to offer reliable information are department managers in multi-store situations, meat and seafood department managers in both single and multiple stores, category managers, and commissary managers. These lacks may reflect the lower participation rate of larger co-ops in the database.

As with general managers, the salaries of other senior management positions (marketing, HR, operations, IT) tend to increase with the size of the co-op or company, although there are plenty of outliers and discontinuities—even more than with general manager compensation. Department manager (grocery, produce, prepared foods, produce, wellness) salaries also roughly correlate with sales volume, but the database shows even more exceptions than are displayed by the upper management positions.

In the current labor market, in which retail groceries struggle to fill all types of positions, it may not be surprising that managers with less than two years in a position are making as much as or more than their peers at another store with over ten years in the position. Whatever the reasons, for any given position, there doesn’t appear to be a correlation between salary and length of service in that position.

One aspect of interest I had hoped to be revealed by the database is gender equity in management positions. We’ve explored this issue with general manager compensation in 2021 and 2022 For many positions, the datasets are too small to allow firm conclusions, given that there is a wide range of sales volume in the sample for each position.

Another factor that makes it hard to gauge gender equity in compensation is that some positions are held overwhelmingly by female and non-binary managers: examples are HR and marketing (in both one-person and multi-person departments), bookkeepers/finance managers in one-person departments, and front-end and wellness department managers. By the same token, IT and facilities manager positions in the database are held exclusively by males.

Still, looking at the departments managed by both male and female/non-binary managers, there does not appear to be a pattern of male managers being paid more.

If you are a general manager reading this article, and have not yet entered the data for other management positions in your co-op, consider this a plea to do so now, or to designate your HR manager as a secondary user for this task. Again, The more data gathered, the more useful the database becomes to everyone. If you run into questions, please contact us at


 Using the Compensation Database:

“It opened our eyes to some areas for improvement as well.”

 By Madeline Cochran

 As the cost of living in their community soared, the leadership and the board of Orcas Island Food Co-Op recognized that salaries needed to be evaluated and likely adjusted. Learner Limbach, general manager, and the board decided to use these necessary adjustments as an opportunity to establish a more strategic process for determining their staff compensation. The first thing they needed was information. “As we discussed compensation moving forward, we ran up against more questions than answers,” shares Learner. “What are other GM’s at stores our size making? What’s the appropriate difference between GM wage and the lowest paid employee? How should the GM salary relate to other management salaries?”

Learner reached out to his network for answers and found Columinate’s Compensation Database. “Once it was live, we enrolled right away,” says Learner. “We were so excited to have access to data that answered many of our questions. Not only did it validate what we were already thinking about in terms of compensation, but it opened our eyes to some areas for improvement as well.” By comparing their salary structure to compensation data provided by stores of a similar size, Learner and the board discovered that the salaries of not just the general manager, but the entire management team, were below average.

Identifying these discrepancies, and other compensation trends as a whole, enabled Learner and the board to identify new salary targets and make a plan to achieve them. “We are deeply committed to ensuring our employees have great pay, not just the minimum we can get by with,” expresses Learner. “The Columinate Compensation Database has provided us with a strong base of understanding that we are now adding to with local data to ensure our pay reflects cost of living considerations.”

2022 was the first year Orcas Island Food Co-Op’s staff wages were informed, in part, by the data in the Columinate Compensation Database, and Learner and the board plan on checking in with the database annually. Having used the tool for two years, Learner encourages other co-op GMs to enroll! “As more people use the tool, and more data is added, it becomes even more beneficial for the whole system. While it might not be the only tool you need, the compensation database is a fantastic place to start an important conversation.”

About the Author

Carolee Colter

Human Resources for Boards &...

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