Columinate consultant Dennis Hanley stepped into the role of interim general manager (IGM) at Co-op Market Grocery & Deli in Fairbanks, Alaska, after their general manager exited in late summer 2021. Co-op Market Grocery & Deli, which has more than 4,700 owners in a town of 31,500 residents and typically exceeds $4.3 million in sales, has seen great improvements since Hanley’s arrival. The interim GM engagement was for about three months while the co-op completed its search for a new general manager (who will be starting soon). Dennis will continue in a “monitor and mentor role” to support the new GM and provide the board with regular external monitoring for a year. The new general manager will also participate in Columinate’s GM Development Program.
We reached out to Hanley to learn about his experience as an interim general manager and how valuable the IGM role is for co-ops that are in the midst of a leadership transition.
What does interim general manager work look like?
The IGM role is very exciting. It is a role that comes with a lot of accountability and responsibility, but one that is also rewarding. You are fixing processes and systems and, most importantly, improving the operation and developing the team to be successful.
How would you describe the store that you are currently working with?
At Co-op Market Grocery & Deli, there were many opportunities to explore: organizational structure, culture, systems, staffing, pricing, merchandising, and operations. It is a store that has not had a professional grocer in leadership since its inception eight years ago. In just three months, I have seen a great acceptance of our new plan and a team grateful and eager to learn, which is why we are having success.
What is your most memorable experience about the interim general manager engagement?
No doubt [it was] taking a team that was headed for disaster from a financial performance perspective and a culture that was not conducive to winning and creating one that is capable of turning it around. Now they are making budget, and staff morale is improving. The entire culture has become one that is focused on working together and achieving success as a team with a common focus of achievement in every aspect of the operation.
What sort of changes have you been able to enact? What goals have you reached?
One issue that I saw right away was a staffing shortage. We had a total team of twenty-four, and within four weeks we have been able to build back to a team of thirty-nine. Imagine an environment of “We can’t” changed to “We can.” This was a major win, as it helped all of the managers get the necessary help to do their jobs properly. We employed multiple staffing strategies to make it happen.
Why is the interim GM program so useful for stores?
A sharp IGM can come into a troubled situation, assess and understand the issues, and have the team turn it around by leading in a positive manner and making the difficult decisions that were not made, in some cases, for years. It is so rewarding to mentor, monitor, and develop teams!
What are the benefits of having an interim GM?
Increased sales, higher margins, lower expenses, and positive net income with the business generating cash. All these are important, but the impact on the team is the number one priority—to improve the culture and morale. People want to be part of a profitable, thriving business that can help a community grow together, not just selling groceries, but so much more.
Learn more about Columinate’s management-on-contract services here.
Have more questions?
Get in touch with one of our consultants.