May 2 Owner-Member Forum Update

May 16, 2018

Thank you to everyone who attended the owner-member forum on May 2nd.  We had a lot of great discussion about the future of Bloomingfoods and where to go from here.  There was general agreement that Bloomingfoods needs to have a clear niche.  Owner-members were enthusiastic about the ideas of minimizing waste, maximizing local, and developing a clear product policy but there is a lot of work to be done in clarifying the details.  First, though, let’s talk briefly about how Bloomingfoods is doing right now.

Did we really save $100,000 so far in our Summer Savings Campaign?

We have been taking action in a number of ways and are very pleased at the progress that has been made.  To clarify, the goal is not to put $200,000 cash in the bank by the end of May; the goal is to generate a combination of cash savings and spending decreases to make sure we can survive the summer slump.  Here are our rough calculations from April:

 

New Membership Equity         $800
Round Up for Bloomingfoods   $12,300
Other Donations     $9,000
Savings from Using Cash     $8,800
Savings from New Discount Structure     $6,200
Operational Efficiencies   $62,900
Total Savings $100,000

What can we learn from this?  Your actions make a difference!  Owner-members paying cash instead of using a credit card saved us almost $9,000 this month!  And your rounding up for Bloomingfoods brought in a record-breaking $12,300!  Thank you for your commitment and active participation in keeping Bloomingfoods strong.  Keep it up!

Much of the additional savings comes from improved operational efficiencies.  The great news about that is we anticipate ongoing savings moving forward.  Our staff is working super hard to run a tight ship and to adjust operations week by week to keep our expenses in line with our sales.  This will allow us to keep our cash reserves in the bank all summer long and hopefully start building them back up this fall.

So is the crisis over?

We still need your help.  The good news is that we are getting back on track but we have a lot more work to do before we can consider ourselves financially healthy.  Don’t forget those fellow owner-members who invested a total of $1.2 million in the Elm Heights store.  You may also have noticed our graphs in the stores of customer counts and basket size.  Some of this data is tricky to interpret because it fluctuates widely from week to week depending on the weather (rain = low sales), special events (Spring Break = low sales, Easter = high sales) and other less obvious factors.  But generally speaking, our customer count and total sales are still lower than we’d like them to be.  Our marketing department is working to create a cohesive plan that will let us effectively reach out and recruit new shoppers but it takes time to get everything in place.  We have heard your requests to help and are working on ways to get owner-members more involved whether it’s handing out fliers, posting a yard sign, or hosting a workshop.  If you have specific ideas, feel free to contact Catie Schamel at catie@bloomingfoods.coop

What about future plans?  Which one was most popular?

All four of the models we presented (co-working space with café, fresh format store, low waste store, community store with highly vetted products) had appealing aspects for various owner-members.  Multiple attendees commented that the fresh format, low waste, and highly vetted formats could be easily combined.   Everyone supported the idea of developing a clear product policy (which could address packaging as well as the product itself) as a way to distinguish ourselves from the competition.    However, there are many details to figure out.  Luckily, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.  We have identified a handful of co-ops with impressive – and distinctly different – product policies so the next step is to pick the pieces we like and develop our own.  If you are interested in participating on the product policy committee, please contact board member Bobbi Boos at bobbi@bloomingfoods.coop

Additionally, the board will continue to research our four future options in more detail.  A couple of our board members will be traveling this summer and plan to visit stores that are trying some of our “future” ideas.  We have also discussed the possibility of doing a little experimentation with the Ivy Tech store, which has a set up very similar to our co-working café model.  And, as several forum attendees pointed out, there are steps we could take right now to make it easier for shoppers to practice low waste shopping.  Suggestions included better signage in the bulk department, new scales, improved spoons/funnels, and making sure the pencils and tape are well-stocked.  We will also take a look at possibilities in the deli department for alternate packaging and better information about the packaging we do have.

Is the goal to retain and increase value to our existing customer base or is it to expand our reach to new customers?  You can’t serve the entire population.  Choose who you are serving and do it well.

We also had some lively discussion about who is our target market.  How do we find the balance between choosing a niche and making sure it is broad enough to be appealing?  How do we introduce a low waste shopping experience without alienating shoppers who are accustomed to buying everything encased in plastic?  What changes will bring in new shoppers while also satisfying our existing dedicated owner-members?  These are not questions with easy answers.  They are important pieces of the research and development process that the board is currently undertaking. 

Can the board approach the real estate developer of the Bloomingfoods East site to be a part of the new development plans at a reasonable rate?

We have recently connected with the real estate developer, Trinitas Ventures, and hope to learn more about their plans and timeline.  However, it is unlikely that we could afford to move into a brand new space at this time.  Several of the newer buildings on the East side are charging five times more in rent than we currently pay.  Over the next few months, the board will be working to identify feasible locations on the East side and a budget for what it would take to build out a store.  Do you know of a great commercial opportunity on the east side or a supportive real estate investor who might be interested in purchasing a building to rent to Bloomingfoods?  Please pass any tips on to Maggie at maggie@bloomingfoods.coop.  

I heard a rumor that the East store will be closing this summer.

Ah, rumors.  Always so juicy and exciting!  We have NO plans to close the East store this summer.  We will be watching closely to see the effects of our new competition (anticipated opening date in August).  Other co-ops across the country have seen sales drops ranging from 10% to 40% and in many cases the sales partially bounce back after the first few months.  We will be stepping up our promotional activities to minimize the impact but also know we can weather a drop in sales of up to 30% for a few months.  If our drop in sales is more dramatic or more sustained, we will need to take further steps and will be sure to update our staff and owner-members quickly.

How can I help?

Thank you for all your support so far.  Please keep doing what you’re doing whether it’s paying in cash, sharing kind words with our staff, recruiting new shoppers, or simply continuing to include Bloomingfoods in your routine.   Want to get more involved?  Consider running for the board!  We work hard and we also have fun and are proud to be making a difference.  Now is the time to secure the future of our beloved Bloomington institution that has been serving the community for over 40 years.  Another way you can volunteer your time is to organize a workshop or event at Bloomingfoods.  Perhaps you would like to share your passion for gluten-free baking or aromatherapy or growing sprouts.  Send your idea to Catie at catie@bloomingfoods.coop

Lastly, please plan to attend our next owner-member forum on Monday July 23rd when we will be celebrating our 42nd birthday.  We plan to spend some time celebrating our past as well as continuing our discussion of the future.  There will also be cake. 

Your opinions, passion, and ideas are important.  Thank you for your continued support of Bloomingfoods.

Maggie Sullivan
Bloomingfoods Board President
812-345-1592