News from our GM graphic

From Our GM

Mike Houston

We had our semiannual member meeting on May 19th at the Takoma Park Volunteer Fire Department. Attendees heard presentations from Co-op staff, board members, membership committee members and got the opportunity to ask questions during open member forum. Topics included our new staff union contract, updates on community engagement efforts, a report on the cottage food industry and a finance update. A discussion about proposed updates to the By-laws regarding electronic communication to members also occurred, with a vote on those changes upcoming for all members. The board and I appreciated members who took the time to join us and give their input on the Co-op.  Below is the text of my GM report for those who were unable to join us.  

When we last met in October, I had just completed my 7th week of work at the Co-op.  Looking back at the 7 months since then, it is absolutely incredible what the store has been able to accomplish, and I’m thrilled looking ahead to what we can all continue to do together.  

Everything about the success of the store starts with our staff, so I have the honor of giving some great staff updates.  Since we last spoke, we hired a full time IT Manager with natural food store experience. We promoted an internal candidate to fill our Community Engagement Manager position and hired a Beer/Wine manager to fill her roll.  We have a terrific team of employees that make everything possible. In March, we finalized contract negotiations with our workers union and ratified our three-year contract. In addition to establishing our $15 minimum wage and codifying the excellent benefit package that was already in place, the contract provides new worker benefits for longevity, profit-based bonuses, holiday pay and other working conditions.  You’ll hear later from one of our hard-working Shop Stewards Tiffany Saltus who was instrumental in the negotiations and in representing the voices of her fellow workers.

In the wake of the contract’s completion, the Board asked management to do a third-party survey on staff satisfaction.  The survey was a mix of computer-based questions, which all employees in the store except myself took, and in person interviews with randomly selected staff.  The results of the survey are being compiled to be presented to the Board in June, but the initial data we have received shows strong results in engagement with the workplace and satisfaction around compensation and benefits.

Community engagement and outreach efforts have always been important to TPSS and I’m excited we are continuing that work.  We added our new Thursdays at the Co-op concert series each week to activate the Junction lot and provide a regular community gathering.  We hosted our annual Earth Day with an amazing slate of speakers and environmental presentations. We partnered with City of Takoma Park and OTBA on events on the lot space, like Art Hop and the Success Fair, and plan to continue partnering with organizations on events at the store and on the lot.  We’ve received nice recognition about the store including a Washington Post article calling our bulk department ‘near perfect’.

Store sales have been strong, especially since the holiday season.  We added 202 new memberships in our Jan-March quarter, an amazing testament to our staff turning shoppers into member-owners.  

We are deepening our connection to local organizations within Takoma Park, Montgomery County and the wider region.  I sit on the OTBA Board to give voice to issues of the Co-op and the Junction businesses within the local economy. I was also selected to serve a two-year term on the Montgomery County Food Council and help connect TPSS to issues around our regional food system, and the intersection of our food economy with environmentalism, education and access to healthy foods.  I continue to serve on the Business Advisory Council for SEEC, an organization that looks to expand inclusive hiring for people with developmental disabilities. TPSS has recently committed to provide job trials and mock interviews for this community.

We remain committed as a staff and in partnership with our Board to monitoring developments with the Junction NDC project.  I am currently sitting on the State Highway Administration’s Visioning Study group and will participate in a Junction business meeting with SHA later this week.  The county planning board has paused the review process of the NDC application until the completion of the SHA visioning process, which will be completed by September at the earliest.  After that, the plan will require review by various agencies.

Lastly, I have an exciting update from just this last week.  TPSS joined Green America, a non-profit that certifies business practices in a variety of industries.  After completing the certification process for a grocery business, TPSS received the Gold Certification, the highest level.  Green America Gold Certification automatically qualifies TPSS entry to the Montgomery County Green Business Program, and we have become the first grocery store in Montgomery County to achieve gold certification and entrance to this program.  Among other perks, the TPSS logo will soon be appearing on County buses promoting our status as a green business.

I’m very excited by the things we have accomplished together, and I look forward to more initiatives to improve our sustainability, community outreach, workforce development and other lofty goals that make TPSS more than just a natural food store, but a true community.  Thank you.