Bloomingfoods has grown dramatically over the last five years. In 2007 we opened the Near West Side store. The East Third St store was remodeled in 2009, and in 2010 we opened our Garden Center. The following year, 2011, brought the expansion of our food service operations into the Commissary Kitchen at Middleway FoodWorks and the reintroduction of prepared foods at the Kirkwood store. Recently, 2012 brings the anticipated opening of our Community Room at the Near West Side store, on-going planning for more enhancements to our prepared foods departments, and a possible ‘discount store’.
Our membership growth is a significant driver of these expansions and updates. In July 2007, just prior to the opening of the Near West Side location, we had about 6,500 member-owners. Today, we have more than 10,000 member-owner households shopping at Bloomingfoods (making up about 70% of our total sales) and we continue to add new member-owners at an unprecedented rate. A healthy, growing organization for more than a decade, Bloomingfoods is committed to serving our membership and the community. It is with this intent that we are continually evaluating our operations and looking for opportunities that will allow us to expand and be better at what we do.
It was with the opening of our Near West Side store that we first experimented with the idea of a ‘Neighborhood Store.’ The concept was to create a store closer to home or work, and to which it is easy to walk or bike. It seemed that this format reflected many of the ideals we saw expressed by our member-owners in comment cards and our annual survey, and the community at large. The overwhelming success we have experienced at 6th and Madison makes it apparent that the size and format works for Bloomingfoods and Bloomington.
At this time, our General Manager George Huntington (with the support of the Board of Directors and key administrative staff) is actively exploring a site that has been identified as a likely location for a new Bloomingfoods neighborhood store. As with any project in it’s early stages, we are working through a lot of details, but it is our hope that this work will lead to the eventual opening of a fourth retail grocery that is very similar to our Near West Side store.
There are a number of financial ratios, including our percentage of sales to member-owners, that help us identify a need to grow our operations. In addition to our continual evaluation of key financial data, we have conducted several market studies to determine where shoppers and member-owners are coming from and going to when they shop in our stores. We use all of this information to determine the viability of an expansion and evaluate potential locations.
The market studies we have conducted over the past five years suggest there are multiple locations in our community which would support the opening of a new Bloomingfoods similar in size and format to the Near West Side. The opening of a store in one of these locations would serve a significant number of our member-owners, be a ‘third-place’ in the neighborhood, and strengthen our local economy by creating jobs and increasing opportunities for local producers to sell their goods. Additionally, it would relieve some of the pressure experienced by our at capacity East Third St and Near West Side stores.
In addition to the number crunching, we look to the direction given by our Board of Directors, specifically through our Ends Statements. Our current Ends:
Because of BCS, people in Bloomington and South Central Indiana will have:
• A market for local, organic, and healthy products, meeting the needs of consumers and producers.
• Increased cooperative ownership that strengthens the local economy and community.
• A model of sustainable, profitable business.
• An increased understanding of the local food system and its importance.
The Ends are incorporated into our annual business plan and are a way for us to focus on those things that are a priority to our member-owners. They guide our work and help ensure that it is aligned with the goals of the cooperative. It is the work we have been doing for the past five years has brought us to this point.
Our hardworking staff, the vision of our Board of Directors, the support of our dedicated member-owners, and the forward-thinking community we are a part of all contribute to our ability to thrive and grow. Although the outcome of our current effort remains uncertain, we are excited to work towards a project that will allow us to better fulfill those Ends put forth by our Board of Directors and offers new opportunities to serve our member-owners and our community.
Please contact me:
There are a number of important factors that we use to evaluate a potential location and while sales data and market studies are useful for determining the financial viability of a site, it is a key part of our process to look beyond these numbers and evaluate the human component.
The current exploration of the site at 2nd and Fess included a series of meetings with the Elm Heights Neighborhood Association (EHNA), giving us the opportunity to hear their thoughts and questions, learn more about the members of that community, and gauge interest in our proposed project. With the assistance of Jenny Southern, President of the EHNA, we scheduled a series of meetings open to all members of the neighborhood association. Hosted by architect Mark Cornett, the sessions were designed to gather input and work towards a design that fits with the needs of the neighborhood.
Around the world, there are more than 1.4 million cooperatively owned businesses, with more than 800 million members, all sharing the same values and principles. An estimated 30,000 cooperatives in the United States operate 73,000 places of business, own more than $3 trillion in assets, and generate over $500 billion in revenue and $25 billion in wages. As member-owners of Bloomingfoods, we are a part of a worldwide network of innovative, values-driven enterprises across many sectors of life.
Review by the City of Bloomington
After several months of work with our team and the City of Bloomington Planning Department, we have successfully navigated our first official review of the variance package which is required to move forward with our neighborhood grocery project. In addition to the old K&S building, the half block at Second and Fess presently has residences on it that date back to the early 1900's. Lot lines and current zoning don't match up with some of the existing buildings and a bit of work is required to clean all of this up. Additionally, our redevelopment of this commercial site, that is located in a residential neighborhood, requires a number of variances from both the Plan Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals.
We collaborated with the Elm Heights Neighborhood Association to develop a concept for the site that was compatible with the character and scale of the surrounding homes. A proposal was submitted to the Planning Department and was recently reviewed this past Monday, July 9th, by the Plan Commission. They forwarded a positive recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals for our project, calling it a “prime infill opportunity” that will serve to advance the cities Growth Policies Plan, or long-range vision and strategy for the growth of our community.
The Store Takes Shape
Deciding on the shape of the building and where it sits on the lot is just the first part of what will be an extensive design process. We have yet to determine most of the details (everything from what equipment we need to what color we paint the walls) and store designers, architects, structural and mechanical engineers, and designers will work with our internal team to examine every detail of our vision for this neighborhood store. It is during this design process that we will engage both neighborhood residents and our membership to brainstorm amenities they would like to see the store provide.
An important step down this path takes place this week when our store designer, PJ Hoffman, comes to town to work with with several of our staff as well as the Bloomington based design team. He will help us determine the layout of the store, develop a preliminary fixture plan, and discuss equipment that we are considering. This is the first time our entire team will be together in one room; it will be a great chance to talk about the concept for the store and how we will work together to achieve our vision.
Financing our Project
Our work to develop and finalize our finance package for this project continues as well. In addition to conversations with our lenders, we are preparing for the launch of a member loan drive. In 2006, we raised nearly $300,000 from our membership, in the form of loans, for the Near West Side store project. Member loans are an important way that co-ops raise funds for projects like expansions, remodels, and new stores. You can learn more about member loans and the third Cooperative Principle, Economic Participation, in an article from this month's newsletter, Capitalizing the Co-op.
Raising money through our member loan program will be an important part of this project. Our goal is to raise $800,000 in member loans (roughly 30% of the projected, overall project cost) from our more than 10,000 members. We hope that loans will average $5,000, with a minimum loan amount of $1,000. It will be similar to 2006 in that we will offer terms of 4, 5, 6, and 7 years with interest rates ranging from 2%-4%.
While we have a few more hurdles to clear before we can begin our loan drive, we have already heard from many member-owners who hope to participate and have created a pledge form you can use to tell us that you are considering participating and would like to know more about the member loan program. You can fill out the form here.
Our process continues with the review of our variance package by the BZA on Thursday, July 19th 2012 at 5:30pm.
If we remain on track with our current timelines, we will be officially announcing our Member Loan Drive next month.
Keep watching for more updates as we continue to work on making the Elm Heights neighborhood grocery a reality.