Wynston Estis arrived at Ocean Beach People’s Organic Market in April of 2021 during a period of instability. The San Diego co-op had closed their adjacent café in late 2019 and lost their general manager in October of 2020. Operationally, they were struggling, losing elements of their service culture in the tumultuous leadership transition, and fighting to regain sales growth. Throughout Wynston’s tenure, she worked with the team at Ocean Beach to improve both daily and long-term operations, including improving the financial conditions of the store while simultaneously implementing a staff-wide pay increase.
We recently connected with Wynston, who recently completed her engagement with Ocean Beach, to learn more about the experience of stepping into a leadership position during a critical period in Ocean Beach’s evolution and the impact she made there.
How would you describe Ocean Beach People’s Organic Market?
Ocean Beach is a groundbreaking co-op that got rigid in its execution of fulfilling its mission. During my time there, we worked on updating their systems, structure, and approach to operations. We also worked on bringing back the fun of being a co-op and enjoying being a part of a good workplace and a good mission.
What sort of changes were you able to enact?
There were so many changes, but the biggest, most impactful one, aside from reaching profitable sales, was developing a budget for the new fiscal year and a reinvestment strategy for their business over the next several years.
What is your most memorable experience about the interim GM engagement?
We had a staff meeting to go over our quarterly numbers—and also to inform staff that we were implementing a pay rate increase across the board for all members of staff and management. It was pretty great to have helped them achieve that in just six months. The homemade tamales from one of the staff members’ families were also pretty outstanding.
What does interim general manager work look like?
Connection: to your purpose, to your community, to your staff, to your operations, to your resources. It looks like making the right connections, making the right decisions, and building action plans from there.
Why is the interim GM program so powerful?
We provide a team support while we assess and direct their efforts, which gives the board time to search for their next leader. We also get the co-op in good shape to attract and welcome the next GM. Boards receive a clear view of where the co-op is and what the immediate challenges are, as well as a capable business partner to get them on steady ground.
People who serve as IGMs have a broader perspective than the folks tied to one co-op. In my career, I’ve worked with startup co-ops, $3 million to $40 million annual sales co-ops, multi-site co-ops, five-year-old co-ops, and fifty-year-old co-ops. We have a breadth of experience that is really hard to find that gives us the tools, resources, and vision to navigate some pretty strenuous challenges. We also love co-ops. We are the most extreme version of co-op leaders.
To gain the board perspective on this crucial work, we reached out to Steve Myrick, board chair at Ocean Beach People’s Organic Market, to ask about the value of interim general manager services and his experience working with Wynston at this pivotal time in their history.
Why was it the right choice to bring in Wynston when you did?
The cooperative had been experiencing monthly losses for over a year prior to the effect of COVID. The board of directors decided to hire an IGM who would begin the process of turning the losses into profits.
Wynston was very helpful in several areas. She was able to realign the cooperative’s financials making them easier to read and more informative. She made several internal personnel changes. With her leadership, we were able to decrease monthly losses by 90% and hopefully will result in monthly profits in the next couple of months. It was an enlightening experience to see how her changes affected the store’s day-to-day operations.
We are very happy with the changes Wynston has made. The board has learned what a capable general manager is able to accomplish. We are starting a general manager search, and thanks to Wynston, we have a much better idea of what we are looking for in a person to fill the position.
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