Davis Food Co-op
Year founded: 1972
Number of members: 9,400
Member equity: $300
Number of employees: 142
Prasanna Regmi has been the general manager at Davis Food Co-op in Davis, Calif. since 2016. Her transition to the top leadership role there was not always effortless as she sought to make change, but her belief in co-op values as her touchstone has helped her lead the co-op through its current renaissance.
Like a lot of people who find their way to a food co-op, Regmi became a parent and started thinking about her child’s future and health and wellness. She was living in Sacramento at the time and started patronizing the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. “When I had my son, I started shopping at the co-op, and I always thought the co-op had great business principles. ” Those principles, along with the great products, attracted her to the place. It got her thinking about doing something different with her career.
She has always loved the profession of retailing, and worked for a few big box stores including the Giant grocery store chain. “I always had amazing results for income and margin management, but I didn’t know where the profits went. At the co-op I knew that profits went back to the community. ” The comparisons started to stack up in her mind, and she began to look for opportunities in food co-op management.
“It was a lifestyle shift, leaving corporate employment and going to a co-op,” but one she absolutely doesn’t regret. She enjoys the intense engagement with customers, and the pride members have in the co-op. “The input from the customer base is one of the big differences. Corporations train people how to deal with customers, but not how to understand customer needs. ”
She thinks that authentic desire for understanding the customer is a big service differentiator for co-ops. “Democratic member control means that people care about things,” Regmi said. “You have a big voice as a shopper and that’s really powerful. People want to be part of the business model, not just share product suggestions. They want to see their ideas incorporated. ”
The really, really new thing, though, was when she got hired by Davis Food Co-op and she had to learn to work with a board of directors. “The board relationship was very different. ” At first it felt intimidating and challenging because the board had been through a lot of general manager turnover. “I had a lot of trust-building to do and I needed to be very transparent, although I wasn’t sure what was the right information to provide. I reached out to my co-op peers for advice on how to navigate that. ”
Regmi also reached out to human resource systems and training consultant Carolee Colter. “She was helpful from the very beginning and also encouraged me utilize the Cooperative Board Leadership program.”
Along with managing all those other important relationships, Regmi also needed to build a great relationship with Davis’ staff. Management turnover had made them resistant to change, and some were fearful of her corporate experience. “I had to let them know that I had good intentions for the co-op.” Assessing the co-op’s strengths and weaknesses and finding the personnel to support the co-op’s success has won people over. “People didn’t have the context for the big picture or an idea of what could be achieved. Now we’ve shifted quite a bit, and leaders understand that we’re all in it together.”
What a difference Regmi’s leadership has made. The co-op is planning a major reset this year in the wake of a good year financially. The co-op is experiencing multiple percent growth, had distributed a patronage rebate to members, and offered bonuses to the staff. “We’ve accomplished so many amazing things. The community is so strong in Davis and people really care about the co-op. We needed to strengthen operations and I’m so happy to see people looking forward.”
This year they are also doing focus groups with members to align member needs with the reset. “I’m so excited for our store. I am such a big fan of co-ops now. The work is so powerful.”
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