Guiding the Fundamentals of Co-op Business

Guiding the Fundamentals of Co-op Business

  |  April 10, 2019

Seward Community Co-op
Minneapolis, MN

Year founded: 1972
Member investment: $75
Number of members: 20,000
Number of employees: 270
Locations: Franklin and Friendship grocery stores, cafe, production kitchen, administrative offices

Ray Williams is Seward Community Co-op’s operations manager and recognizes that even though the co-op has achieved a lot over the years, especially in terms of growing its operations and diversifying staff and leadership, it is also an organization currently in transition. “The past few years have been very intense with opening the second store, increased competition and unionization.” Like many grocery cooperatives, Seward has felt the pressure to provide good wages, pay vendors a fair price, maintain high standards of service and remain sustainable and profitable.

That’s why Williams said that he is currently focusing on business fundamentals, and they include two main things: helping his staff and teams understand that their work impacts profitability, as well as maintaining a work environment built on good relationships.

He said one aspect of today’s corporate competition is that experienced employees have more career options and opportunity for higher pay. That’s led to talented people leaving and taking some of the co-op’s institutional knowledge with them. New people entering the job market need development, and that’s where Williams sees the need to provide training at the entry level, as well as provide information for future leaders on how to run a department, meet margin goals, and make decisions in the fast-paced world of retailing.

Last year he created a new operational team to assess the co-op’s operations and strategically implement change. Their work is about retail nitty-gritty as well as solving problems. “We’ve operated for so long with sales and staff alignment, but that’s not the norm or reality anymore. That’s why we need to ensure our leaders are engaged with the mission.”

“This focus on fundamentals is about more than just paying the bills,” Williams said. “It’s important that co-ops are continually telling the story of what they do in the community, as well as to the staff. Seward has been a great place that has gone above and beyond for a long time.”

Now the co-op is adjusting to a new business environment that asks people to prioritize operations with impact. Williams said they developed a “decision matrix” that helps people think about the impact of everyday decisions on co-op Ends, resources, staff and the community. “It really helps drive what we consider when we make decisions. It’s really a simple tool, and if someone or something is negatively impacted, it may not be a decision we make.”

Williams emphasized that this is a critical part of the focus on upping your game when resources need to stretch further than ever—never forget that people are always impacted by business decisions. “My advice as a leader is to approach your work and relationships with a humble spirit. I believe in mentorship and coaching and taking every opportunity to serve. I love to create space where it’s an open-door policy. Every interaction is a learning opportunity.”

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