Financial health is the backbone of a successful co-op. Like every other part, it’s twisting and turning during the current pandemic. “Things are changing really fast,” says feasibility and project development consultant Don Moffitt. “I’m not sure that anybody knows exactly what they need to be doing right now.”
Even during normal times, it’s possible to be profitable on paper but still suffer from a shortage of cash. It’s also possible to be unprofitable yet manage to pay the bills. All of this is especially true now, compounded by the element of unpredictability. “Because business conditions are changing so quickly … the trends day-to-day are volatile,” says financial improvement consultant Brittany Baird.
Columinate experts are riding this wave with you, but they all agree that closely monitoring your finances is a must — as often as daily. “There may be no time to plan, but anticipating needs and planning as best you can is critical,” says retail support consultant Tim Sullivan. “The key is to think about everything that affects cash.”
The key is also to tap into your co-op’s values. “Co-ops make people feel a certain type of way,” says retail support consultant Wynston Estis. “Right now, when people are feeling freaked-out sometimes, that feeling of being connected and supported by your co-op is super important. It should be stewarded and bolstered as much as possible.”
In moments of change, it can be hard to find a clear path to move forward confidently. Here, our financial experts offer insight and encouragement.
Track sales and labor very frequently — then act
“The most important thing right now is to increase the frequency of monitoring for sales, labor, and expenses,” says Baird. It’s a bottom-line to your bottom line that every expert agrees on. While you might have previously performed financial analyses quarterly or even biannually, now you should be checking-in as often as possible — even daily.
“Tracking metrics is really hard when it feels like everything is on fire,” says Baird, but it’s a must. Burning cash is a huge risk right now and building cash is incredibly difficult. Monitoring cash flow is the only way to keep it in check.
Your monitoring is bound to highlight labor decisions, which you’re likely making on-the-fly in response to Covid-19. “Responding in a timely but smart manner on labor is critical,” says Sullivan. “It was a big challenge to gear up, but now you’re going to have to manage your labor for fewer sales.”
Specific responses will vary by store and location, and expert insight can help. We feel your pain; “all co-ops have gone through a dramatic transition,” says Sullivan. Whether you seek advice or make your own calls, just keep moving forward and paying attention.
While these times are unprecedented, your operation is capable. “Even though the future is unknown, we do know that a lot of people will be hurting financially,” says Estis. She encourages you to reconsider previous responses. “All of those tools you used to serve your customers and your community during the financial crisis of ’08, dust those off. Plan for coupons and communications to customers about how they can save money with you.”
Remembering the big picture and planning for the future might help you feel better now. But in the now, “the finance and operations teams are going to have to collaborate aggressively,” Estis says.
Constant and clever collaboration underscores frequent monitoring and quick responses. Many co-ops are adjusting their hours or allowing for staggered staffing shifts to minimize total interactions on the sales floor and provide the safest environment for staff and shoppers. Each co-op is finding creative solutions that meet their specific community’s needs. “That’s not a financial decision,” says Moffitt. “That’s a how do we take care of as many of our stakeholders as possible decision.” But right now, all decisions impact financial stability.
Your time to shine
This is all a lot. And there is a silver lining: “Co-ops are pivoting successfully right now,” Baird says. She points out that many big-box grocery stores have week-long waits to get a delivery or curbside pickup window. “There’s a level of personalization that co-ops can offer that larger stores can’t.”
“Relationships with your community and with your own staff are going to make a difference in how people choose where they’re going to shop,” adds Estis.
Attend a Webinar: We’re hosting a free webinar, May 8, on managing co-op financials during and after the pandemic. Register today.
Find a Consultant: Learn more about Columinate’s consultants by clicking on their names above. If you’re interested in hiring a financial planning consultant to help you during this time, but you aren’t sure where to start, contact [email protected].
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