Click on a question for the answer or scroll down to see all frequently asked questions and answers…
How does Astoria Co-op Grocery know that it is time to expand?
We’ve been soliciting feedback from owners and the community about expansion for several years. Our store’s physical capacity is reaching its maximum for the level of sales and customer traffic we achieve on a weekly basis. We’ve heard from our shoppers that they’d like a wider selection of natural foods, hot foods in our deli, a dedicated seating area inside and outside, and more parking spaces just to name a few improvements we are planning on in our new store. From a staff perspective, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the shelves stocked with limited room for storage and no dedicated receiving area for our ever-larger deliveries of healthy groceries, produce, and meat.
We’ve also completed several market studies that have determined that our market area can support a much larger retail store if it is located in a highly visible location with ample parking.
Did you ask owners about expansion?
Yes. The Board of Directors consists of the elected representatives of the Co-op ownership. As such, three years ago the Board initiated communication with the ownership and community about expanding the store. The process began with a shopper survey about expansion that was completed by nearly 800 Co-op supporters. Over 85% of the people that took the survey supported the idea of an expanded co-op, 13% were neutral, and less than 2% opposed.
The Board also did in-store tabling to discuss expansion, held an owner forum, interviewed focus groups with several local stakeholders and local organizations, and learned from other co-op’s that have successfully expanded. In the fall of 2015 we held an owner equity drive focused on building cash for our new store. We tripled our goal and raised nearly $30,000 in one month!
Using the information gathered from this work the Board developed a 5 Year Strategic Plan that serves as a guide toward our expanded store and the increased positive impact we seek to have on our community. Most recently, we gave an update on our expansion at our September 2016 Annual Meeting.
Will Astoria Co-op owners get to vote on expansion?
No. The Board of Directors creates and uses expansion policies by which the Co-op management adheres to as we navigate the path to an expanded store. The Board will approve major milestones, like signing a lease or a major construction contract if they meet the requirements of Board policies.
As part of our cooperative structure, the Board of Directors is elected by Astoria Co-op owners. They are empowered in their capacity as Board members to represent owner interests and make important decisions on their behalf. Because the Board has spent the last several years learning about Co-op expansions, the natural foods industry, consulting with experts, and soliciting feedback from owners, we are prepared to make the complex decisions involved with an expansion to best serve the diverse needs of Astoria Co-op Grocery owners.
How can Astoria Co-op Grocery owners be involved as the project progresses? The Co-op will continue to provide updates on our web page, newsletters, emails, social media, and printed information in the store. Updates will occur at our annual meetings and other special meetings of owners as needed.
How does expansion serve the greater-Astoria community?
By expanding, the Co-op seeks to increase access to healthy food and good nutrition for the community by offering a broader selection of natural foods, more deli and ready-to-eat foods (with a dedicated seating area to enjoy them in), improved meat selection, and more space for shopping our produce department. We aim to improve our pricing in the new store too, as increased volume will allow us to be even more competitive with pricing.
By expanding the Co-op we also seek to increase our sales of locally-grown and made products. In our shopper survey this was an important piece for a large majority of respondents. More space to merchandise local products means we can keep more dollars circulating in the local economy.
Additionally, the Co-op seeks to increase its impact by growing our capacity to support and partner with like-minded organizations with missions surrounding local health. These include, for example, the North Coast Food Web, local events such as Run on the River, Columbia Memorial Hospital, local schools and more. Finally, the operation of the new store will require more employees. More local jobs that pay living wages in our community will certainly have a positive impact!
What’s the ecological impact of an expansion?
It depends on the scope of the final project. A bigger store will of course use more energy and water. At the same time, we’ll install new state-of-the-art refrigeration systems and HVAC as well as LED lighting. These improvements will translate to a per square foot reduction in the Co-op’s energy usage. We’ll also be providing increased products and services that folks may be driving to Warrenton or even Portland to get. We’ll also be selling more local and organic foods, thereby supporting more sustainable farming practices.
Will food prices at the Co-op increase as a result of the project?
Just the opposite is true. We partner with over 150 food co-ops across the country to bring national purchasing power to our small and growing co-op. But there are still incentives to save more on our cost of goods through increasing our specific store’s volume. Because we are projecting considerably more sales we expect to be able to pass savings on to owners. We’ll also get to expand our offering of promotional programs like Co+op Deals and Co+op Basics. Finally, we will design a space that is planned to operate as a grocery store. We currently operate with built-in inefficiencies: employees make-do with less than ideal work spaces, and it takes more labor hours to stock shelves since all the product delivered doesn’t fit on displays.
Will it still feel like a Co-op?
The size store we are planning will still be considered quite small compared to our conventional grocery counterparts. At 8,000 square feet of retail space, our new store will be about four times the size of our current space. As a comparison, Safeway is about 60,000 square feet of retail space. If you’ve ever been to co-ops in Port Townsend or Ashland, the size store we are planning would be a bit smaller and those places still feel very much like a co-op. And we’ll still generate that co-op smell!
Will the expansion include more parking?
Yes. A requirement of the Board is that the new location provides at least 6 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space.
Will the expansion incorporate solar panels?
Most likely the preliminary phase of our project will not include solar panels due to the tight budgeting involved with building the new store. But the building will be designed in such a way that they could be added later during our tenancy.
Will an expanded store offer services that aren’t currently available?
Yes. Through years of research and growing sales, we learned that Astoria Co-op owners and shoppers want more of what the Co-op does well: more space for fresh produce, more local products, full-service deli and meat departments, and a dedicated seating area for building community relationships while we eat. We plan to include these improvements in the new store.
What kinds of products will be at the new store?
Our management team will be making the decisions about what to carry and your opinion and requests help them in that process. Let us know your ideas by posting them on the product request board in the store or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
How will the expansion be financed?
The Co-op is preparing to issue a preferred stock to owners that are Oregon residents. This stock will build the Co-op’s equity, strengthening our position when we apply for financing. An important way for Co-op owners to participate in the expansion will be owners investing in our preferred shares campaign to occur later this year. More information on the capital campaign will soon be available.