Thursday, December 13, 2012

2020 Vision Goal 2 Owners' Discussion

Last evening, a group of Weaver Street Market Co-operative owners, together with WSM Board members, had a truly enlightening discussion about the proposed Goal 2 of the WSM 2020 Vision - "Drive the growth of local and sustainable foods."

I'm not going to write at length about what other folks suggested. That's their thunder. And it will be appearing on notes of the conversation in due course on WSM's web-site.

I addressed two matters.

After listening to a genuinely exciting presentation from Ruffin Slater, backed up by Dr. John O'Sullivan, from the North Carolina Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and some wonderful contributions from fellow owners, I did what sometimes I do, usefully or irritatingly, depending on your point of view!

I cut to the chase.

What we had heard from Ruffin was that no other retailer really does local. Organic, yes. That argument has been won. It was the niche of co-operatives for about 20 years. But not so much now. But local? No-one else seems to care. Ok. So. Let's make it our niche, I said.

I suggested that, if we were truly serious about spending the time and the money making local our niche. If we really wanted, in ten years' time, for folks to say, 'When I want local, I go to WSM.' Then we should turn each of our outlets into full-service, living educational laboratories for local.

No namby-pamby flirting around the edges,. The odd promo. Pretty labels for something lost on Aisle 4. No. Make the primary purpose of each of our outlets, backed up by the rest of our operation, to highlight all produce, meat, deli, hot bar, you name it, which is local.

Speaking as a card-carrying, if it ain't in a bag I don't eat it, bachelor, I pointed out that we should stop assuming that our customers and our workers instantly know why they should be buying local, how to do so, and/or when to do so.

Our outlets use vast amounts of room putting up pictures and end-gaps (or whatever those aisle-end boards are called) and displays, which look really cute. Let's substitute all of those with material promoting local. Explaining why. Directing people to what is seasonal. Ensure our new labels highlight everything local. And that accompanying displays are fully informative.

The issue was raised that folks have no problem buying local beer. I pointed out that each beer has oodles of info about where it is made, how and why it is a good buy. Why? Because folks take getting drunk seriously.

The reason there aren't labels the size of my fist all over local pears is because a lot of folks do not know why it is healthy to eat a pear, and why it is important to buy local pears. So, they don't take it seriously. Ok then. It should be up to WSM's educational and marketing machine to tell them.

Special offers and promo's should be geared to local. On a seasonal basis. All of which is regularly explained on our web-site, in The Beet, and in the newsletter, which we have, quite wrongly, reduced to no more than a coupon book.

This is what we should do - if we are serious.

Next up. Board Members spoke once more about being able sensibly to monitor the achievement of the Four Goals, proposed under WSM's 2020 Vision.

I made the point that we had just spent one and a half hours having an in-depth discussion about ideas for just one of the Goals. Every minute of that time had been usefully spent.

Again, if the Board are serious about monitoring progress with the Goals of 2020 Vision, I said that they should set up a standing Board Committee (or Committees), with the specific task of overseeing compliance by WSM with the Four Goals, reporting to the Board, and encouraging participation from owners and the community in the implementation of the Goals.

You will be delighted to know that no-one threw anything at me!

I also suggested that, as part of the educational program with local, but also to make money, WSM might want to consider adding a catering service to its repertoire.

In fact, as I stated at the end of the evening, my suggestion about getting fully invested in local wasn't just about altruism; it was also about grabbing for WSM a commercial niche, that it could then make its own. I still want my dividend at the end of the year!

Oh. And the pic about Fort Bragg? Well, John O'Sullivan had mentioned that even Fort Bragg, NC was interested in local. They produce 100,000 meals a day, and need to be concerned about food safety and security. So, I wondered out loud if we ought not to be building a WSM slap bang in the middle of Seal Team Six, Fort Bragg ... ??

Next discussion. Goal 3. "Invigorate downtowns." February 13, 2013.