What I heard and said at the Annual Membership Meeting in November focused on improved member-board dialogue, and a desire for increased member input regarding the future of Friends and Farmers. Addressing those topics is essential for the success of the co-op. This is the most crucial year to date for F&F, and the relationship between the Board (BOD) and the membership could not be more important.
It is, in my opinion, unproductive to evaluate past board-member interaction, and simply to say that the BOD has guided the co-op to this point, accomplishing much. The demands have changed, and the current BOD is dedicated to moving F&F closer to a grocery store. We strive to perform our duties with the same professionalism and care of the previous BOD.
I make the above observation because in December six new board members took seats at the table, creating a small information vacuum. Much of the time until now has been spent evaluating the current position of the co-op and how it relates to our objectives going forward. The Board is committed to establishing improved communication with members concerned about finances, the future of the Online Market, and the overall goal of this board and the organization. Members want a venue for their opinions and ideas to be heard and we are attempting to streamline a process for that interaction. This letter is a first step.
I am writing as a member, and am expressing my opinions on the current state of the coop and its projected future. These opinions have been voiced at BOD and Executive Committee meetings, and there has been spirited, far ranging discussion on the state of F&F. Board members understand that member input is critical, and, as large decisions are looming, the need is immediate.
It is my opinion that the Online Market should continue operation, but that:
- Product type and selection should expand, including dry goods, and the co-op should be looking more broadly for vendors who can help us achieve reduced costs.
- The co-op must rethink its cost structure and work with vendors who are willing and able to help facilitate a strategy of larger scale purchasing. This should include vendor deliveries, and could incorporate contract buying for select items. Vendor contact should be made in January in anticipation of spring purchases.
- The co-op must pursue a marketing strategy for increased membership from the ‘undecided’ demographic. Even the ‘unaware’ sector. Use of PSU marketing classes or part-time marketing help is necessary.
- F&F must ascertain the reasons many members do not shop and why non-members who do, don’t join.
- We must recognize and partner with employers and student groups who will function as conduits to prospective members.
- The organization must precisely define paid employee roles and expectations so they mirror current co-op needs; and closely monitor progress.
- We formalized lease agreements for the coming year, with expansion in mind. (This has begun)
- Business plan and financing discussions with SPECU should begin. The bank’s input is important.
The Online Market is a means to an end. The co-op’s ultimate goal has never changed or wavered; but if we cannot operate the market successfully, we have little chance to recover and/or operate a store, which is exponentially more difficult and complex. We have until September, when the USDA grant expires to show marked improvement. The Online Market certainly needs large increases in revenue, and ways to reduce cost must be found. Indeed, improvement must be evident earlier, and changes to the current model must be conceived, communicated, approved, and acted upon. Now. Which brings us to the hard decisions, and why we need to hear from our members. Do we continue to spend equity? How much is acceptable? Do we expend more energy on the Online Market? Or shift gears?
I will not speak for the entire board, but I assure the membership these issues are being discussed. The Executive Committee, which met on December 22nd, supports many of these concepts.
What the co-op needs from its membership is manpower. Volunteers for committee work, for outreach events in which F&F may be involved, for work shifts, to transcribe minutes and reports for dissemination, and more. To be effective any BOD must focus on the future, but the F&F reality is that the Board spends large blocs of time running the present. The co-op needs volunteers, and the BOD wants member voices to speak. We are hoping to streamline and speed the mechanisms of contact and communication, but please, give us a little more time.
I am certain of the following: if the F&F organization calls for volunteers and cannot entice enough participation, what does that say about our co-op? I think I know.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. However you decide to contact the Board or other members, use your voice. The F&F future depends on it.