News from our GM graphic

Behind the Curtain

Mike Houston, General Manager

First off, happy May Day to you all, and especially to our amazing staff. Now, more than ever, we couldn’t do it without these 50 dedicated people. Likewise, our commitment to our staff has been a driving force during this time.

There are a number of big natural food shows each year, but by far the biggest is Expo West in Anaheim, California. Attendance is typically in the 80,000-90,000 range, and it was scheduled to begin on March 4th. In the days leading up, worried about domestic and international travel, a number of large chains started to pull out of attending. The attendees from nationwide grocery stores would be centralized buyers, top management, CEOs etc. These chains obviously didn’t feel it was safe to send their top talent into a potentially hazardous situation.  

In the 60(!) days since these chains decided attending Expo West wasn’t safe, almost all have publicly acknowledged positive Covid-19 cases among workers. Five minutes of cross referencing on Google shows me at least 6 chains that pulled out of the Expo have had employees die.  

That’s precisely why the Co-op went to an online model. Staying open would have been more lucrative. It would have been a lot easier. But it was not the right thing to do. Knowing the toll this virus can take, there was truly no other responsible choice to make.  

I’d like to bring you all behind the curtain a little further – partially because there are literal walls that now separate us at all times and partially because the first few weeks of this new system were so hectic that we weren’t able to communicate as often as I typically like.  

When we made the decision on March 23rd to close the store to the public and transition to online ordering, we had no platform in place at all. We investigated numerous systems like Instacart, Mercato and others. The constant theme was that these platforms wanted a big percentage of our slim margins, but more than that they wanted our data. Sign-on required turning over data I considered irrelevant to building an online platform, and valuable to these companies. We’re a membership organization and the idea of turning over that level of transaction data made us all uncomfortable.  

So choosing to build everything the hard way was done with purpose. The local team that designed our website jumped on board the same day to help us accomplish the difficult on an impossible timeline.  Since launching, we’ve had to make tough choices, like which  very limited selection of products we could offer or moving to produce boxes over a la carte offerings. Just like many of you, we were often left choosing between the best of a number of bad options. None of this has been ideal, but we’ve moved thousands of grocery orders out the door safely and that is going to have to stand in for ideal for now.  

I also wanted to say a bit about out of stocks and order fill percentages. We’ve seen a big jump in our fill percentage (how much of what you order we send out) since the middle of the month. Not all, but many staple items are starting to come back in consistently.  As we get more data and information, we’re removing long term out of stocks from the website entirely. We’ve also seen many more of you using the allow substitutions box at checkout. Our goal is always to get you your whole order, and I’m happy to say we’re moving in that direction.  

In addition to the recent upgrades and additions, I’m thrilled to say that BULK is BACK!  We have select bulk section items available on the website and we’ll continue to add to the selection as we are able.  We will never stop working to improve this system to become more efficient, accurate and sustainable in every way.  

I wish I had hard answers to some of the questions we get most frequently: When will more (x department) items be up on the website? When will x be back in stock? When will the store reopen? All have long and complicated answers contingent on staffing capacity or supply chain disruption or a functioning federal government. I can say for sure that when I know, so will you.  

I am so thankful for everyone’s kindness, patience and grace during this time. We’re all giving up something at this time; a brand we like, a recipe we want, the ability to browse the aisles. At the same time, we’re all helping in our sacrifice to contribute to a safe and just system for our whole Co-op community.  

I hope you will join our online Member Meeting next Thursday 5/7 at 7pm. The link will be on our website. Look forward to speaking with some of you then, otherwise we’ll see you under the big white tent!