GM's Corner: Don’t Stop Telling Us What to Do

Jon Roesser, Weavers Way General Manager

Recently, I attended a party where I met a woman from Center City who had never set foot in one of our stores but was nevertheless quite familiar with Weavers Way.

She went on and on about her high opinion of the Co-op, about how much she appreciates us, in her words, “being on the cutting edge” when it comes to supporting the local economy and raising awareness of environmental issues.

It was nice to be able to talk to someone about the Co-op without boring them to death and I was certainly grateful for the compliment, and it’s really nice to hear that the Co-op’s reputation is spreading. All that outreach we do is apparently paying off. 

Her words have been on my mind as I prepare the Co-op’s upcoming fiscal-year business plan because, in truth, it’s not quite accurate to say the Co-op is a leader on any particular issue: In reality, all we’re doing is following the lead of you, our member-owners. 

As a cooperative enterprise, we exist to meet the needs of our members. So in developing our annual business plan, the fundamental question to ask ourselves is “How can we better meet the needs of our members in the year ahead?” 

Figuring this out is no small task and hardly an exact science. We now have more than 9,400 member households representing well over 20,000 individual member-owners. Determining member priorities requires time and effort. 

Certainly member patronage is an important data point, as the products members buy (and don’t buy) tell us a lot about what you want the Co-op to be. Tailoring the product mix to meet member preferences is an essential element of the business model of any consumer cooperative. 

Official feedback via our annual member satisfaction survey — being sent out this month — is also helpful. One benefit of the survey is we get good comparative data to look at year-over-year, so we can track members’ changing priorities and our progress (or lack thereof). 

Behind the hard data is the avalanche of unofficial feedback, usually given by members through nothing more than a quick conversation, often not even presented as “feedback” at all, just members talking in our common space. In the daily life of the Co-op, in thousands of little interactions among members, flows a current of information that, if properly interpreted, can help point us to the Weavers Way of the future. 

So what are we hearing? 

For starters, we hear that, above all else, our members want us to be excellent grocers. It’s pretty cool that we all own a grocery store together, but let’s make sure it’s the absolute best grocery store: one that is immaculate, with excellent customer service and consistently delicious food. So continuous improvement is paramount. 

Beyond this fundamental, members clearly want the Co-op to continue to play our role in the regeneration of our local “foodshed.” The last decades of the 20th century saw the decimation of nearby agriculture as farmland gave way to subdivisions, and food producers— dairies and canneries and the like — moved away. As a result, more and more of our food comes from far outside the region. 

But beginning in the 1990s and accelerating ever since, a new foodshed is being created, with small farms and orchards taking root in the most unlikely of places and a new generation of producers transforming the local food scene. As a retailer, the Co-op has an important role to play in matching consumers with the cornucopia of amazing food now being grown and produced in and around Philadelphia. 

Another area of interest for members is making the Co-op a more environmentally responsible business, particularly when it comes to reducing our reliance on plastic packaging. In “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire believed plastics were the future, but that was 1967, and in 2018 plastics are strictly retrograde. 

Unfortunately, a stroll down any grocery store aisle will reveal the extent to which our food system is plastic-dependent. This is something that should satisfy none of us; instead of remaining part of the problem, the Co-op can take meaningful steps to reduce single-use plastic packaging. 

Led by Weavers Way’s venerable Environment Committee, members are forming a Plastic Reduction Committee that will work with Co-op management to come up with viable alternatives that will make us a more sustainable business and a role model for other grocers. 

If we do this right, Weavers Way will be viewed as being on the cutting edge of an issue that’s important to all of us, and we’ll be happy to take the accolades. 

But in reality, we’re just following your lead. 

See you around the Co-op.