Saturday, March 5, 2011

2011 Q3 Results: It's Your Co-op, Too ...

I genuinely hoped my days of Weaver advocacy were behind me. My livelihood and reputation were being threatened. But, while I am still with WSM, I will comment when I think comment is called for. And the Q3 results call for comment. I set out below the Note I have posted on OrangePolitics:

"The Third Quarter results for WSM are published. They are not the happiest reading. I will have a little whine. But it will be even-handed. Everyone gets a knock - including me. But mostly I want to make a plea to the WSM community. You. Specifically the 13,000 of you who are WSM consumer-owners. You need to be doing more. It's your co-op, too. Don't leave it to others to save it.

But first, the figures and the whine - and the knock against me. Me? Yeah. Why do I keep trying to keep you folks informed of what is really happening with WSM, while the corporate office continue to paint a picture that is simply not true, and ends up being counter-productive?

Oh. I think I just answered the point. The WSM corporate office would say (have said) I am being disloyal and destructive. How can it be disloyal when we are a community co-op, and one of our values is transparency? And how can it be destructive when all I am doing is sharing the truth, and asking for help for that same community co-op?

You can only truly ask for help when you genuinely admit there is a problem. I'm not interested in saving face. I'm interested in saving our co-op.

Now, the figures and the whine. The sales increase for Q3 was as I forecast -- 8%. Which sounds good, until you set it against the goal for the year (established by the corporate office) of 15%.

Leaving aside why the goal of 15% was established -- for which we have still not received a sensible answer -- what happens if we don't make it? And we won't. It would require that we increase sales each and every week in Q4 by 34%. In the past two weeks, we increased sales by 7% and then 5%. If not making the 15% goal is not important, then why was it established -- with huge deleterious effect on us workers; working harder and harder for less and less?

The more disturbing news is that, after we workers bust butt for nine months to increase sales for reasons we do not know, realizing an increase we are told is $1.6 million for the year to date (yay for us, and our contribution to our community co-op!), we are told this will improve profit by only $15,000. And that a dividend is still not guaranteed.

So, what was it all for? Do the corporate office -- do you -- have any idea of the dampening effect such news has on the spirit of the workforce in your co-op?

Business 101. You do NOT set unattainable goals. Not explain them. Stand idly by why good workers see their efforts fail. And then offer them nothing but platitudes. You kill the drive. You kill sales. You kill the company.

The Mission Statement of WSM promises workers a fulfilling work experience. Your co-op is in breach of that provision of the Mission Statement. This should bother you.

The WSM corporate office, and the Board that rubber stamps it, have many questions to answer. Fortunately, we workers will have an opportunity to ask those questions.

I am told that next week the results of the WSM Employee Survey will be published and shared with all workers. We have been promised the opportunity to digest those results in a meaningful way. We have been promised the opportunity to have meaningful discussions about the results. And we have been promised meaningful opportunity to be involved in the Action Plans we have been promised will be devised to correct the matters raised in the Employee Survey.

If the WSM corporate office keep their promises, then, for the first time since I have been involved with WSM, workers will actually have a real voice in the direction of our co-op.

And I suspect, if we are given the opportunity, it will be a substantial and effective voice. My anecdotal feedback from fellow workers is that the main points they made were: (1) They want more understanding of goals, how they are set, and why (cf. 15% sales increase, and the crippling debt of $8 million); and (2) They want worker-ownership (the cost of which is $500, compared to about $175 for consumer-ownership) to be cheaper, so that they can vote in Board Elections (yes, your workers have to pay to vote).

If the WSM corporate office are serious about allowing changes to reflect the concerns of us workers, then we workers should shortly be able to create a situation where workers will be more involved in the big decision-making in the co-op we half-own.

But don't leave it up to us. It is your co-op, too. There are 13,000 consumer-owners. About 100 of you turn up to Annual Meetings. About 500 of you voted in the last Board Elections. This is not involvement. You can not complain about your co-op when you do not participate. Try spending as much time on your co-op as you do on Facebook, and see what happens.

Is it worth it? Sure. We may not be the perfect co-op. But we are still a co-op. We blazed a trail for organic food in the locality. We offer a platform for local farmers to sell their produce, in a consistent fashion, which helps those farmers plan ahead. Even now, WSM is helping a sister co-op open in Burlington. There is much about WSM of which we can be proud. There is much to support. And where it is not perfect, you should get involved, and change it!

And the most important thing you should be doing at the moment? Shopping more at The Weave. If each consumer-owner spent $10 more in Q4. Not a week. Not a month. Just once. $10 more -- once. We would double the profit to date for this financial year.

A co-op is like a love affair. It has it ups. It has its downs. It has happy moments. And troubled ones. And it has at least one of the partners always saying, we could be doing better! Most importantly, like a love affair, a co-op needs work. If you don't work at it, it dies. WSM is too good -- even now -- to let it die. It's up to you. It's your co-op, too ..."

[PERSONAL NOTE: I divested my worker-ownership a couple of months ago after I was told that the WSM corporate office were monitoring and targeting me. I am not making this up. This is what I was told. I have a life and a reputation outside of WSM. And I have my health. I will not allow some misguided fools in the WSM corporate office to take those away from me. The only way to get them off my back was to divest, and to announce that I was looking elsewhere for serious advocacy work. Which, I deeply regret to say, I am. But while I am still here, I will not remain silent in the face of idiocy which is ruining our co-op.]