When the Lexington Cooperative Market in Buffalo, N.Y. had its first major expansion a few years ago, sales and membership grew so rapidly that the board needed to put a process in place to plan for the next one. Resting on their laurels wasn’t an option and while the first project went well, they did believe that their approach to expansion planning could be even more effective. “Expansions can be a scary process because it’s often the biggest real estate transaction anyone on the board has been involved in. Planning has a calming effect,” said current board president Jennifer Nalbone. They used the Expansions and Relocations toolbox by Bill Gessner as their guide, as they had before. But this time they decided to refine their board’s preparation, making sure that everyone knew what the decision points would be, and how to act on them.
First, the board and management have worked in partnership to gain understanding of the marketplace. Tim Bartlett, Lexington’s general manager, took leadership laying the groundwork for growth, helping the board have a context to understand the potential of the co-op’s development. Bartlett said, “My job as general manager is to help the board be successful leaders of the co-op, to ensure that they have information and support. They don’t spend as many hours a week in the co-op like I do, but they make decisions that profoundly impact the co-op.” Bartlett understands that board process and decision making are critical to the co-op’s success and development. “It helps me and the board work together, as well as improving the expansion process.”
The board and management’s work in learning about different types of expansions and understanding the pros and cons of expanding their current space, relocating, or pursuing a second store, has enhanced their ability to make better decisions. They also spent time evaluating alternative ways to grow, including offering non-food services, internet ordering or buying a local farm. According to Nalbone, the board spent the first year of their planning process exploring potential expansion scenarios while also gaining a strong understanding of the needs and demands of the co-op and its owners.
During the past year, the board focused its energy on engaging owners in the process to answer the question of what they wanted. This included conducting community meetings with a wide variety of stakeholders, including the board, members, staff and local growers. “What we learned was that people want more of what we do,” Nalbone said. This includes outreach to the community, supporting local agriculture, and providing access to healthy food. “The need for a natural food co-op in Buffalo is growing and we want to fill it, as well as encourage more cooperative business in general.”
For 2013, the board is actively focused on internal readiness. Their focus is on having a good decision-making process in place and ensuring that the cooperative is financially prepared. This has meant honing in on an important basic: decision-making practice. “I’ve never gone through an expansion process, so as president my job is to make sure the board is ready. But for me as a board member going through it for the first time it’s uncharted territory. This is a practical way to make the whole board familiar with the process,” Nalbone said.
Nalbone also trusts the CDS Consulting Co-op with the professional assistance they needed to address the questions of growth, board education, member engagement and in-depth preparedness. “Understanding it conceptually was the first step, and actually working through a readiness process has been critical for understanding the big decisions. Even if you’re not in expansion mode, any skills you are enhancing will make board process better,” Nalbone said.
Find out more about Lexington Cooperative Market’s expansion plans at www.lexington.coop.