Oryana Natural Foods Market
Traverse City, Michigan
www.oryana.coop

The Oryana Natural Foods Market has a long history of community involvement. In one year alone, the co-op has supported over 200 community organizations, events and individuals. So it was with some dismay that Steve Nance, the co-op’s general manager, learned through a member survey that the co-op’s owners seemed unaware of Oryana’s connection with other organizations. Some of the respondents had even suggested the co-op do more outreach in the schools (already doing it) and support an incubator kitchen (doing that too) among other initiatives already in place. He realized that the co-op needed to do more to inform people about its role in the community. “We owe it to the members that they know what a difference their co-op makes, and what their ownership and patronage supports,” Nance said.

steve-nance-vAt the same time, the co-op had also been nominated for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce’s Hagerty Small Business of the Year Award and needed to fill out the application. Being nominated was no small thing, and it involved no ordinary application process. Nominees are required to fill out an extensive report on business impacts, participate in an in-person interview and site visit, and if chosen as a finalist, be part of a public panel to answer judges’ questions. The winner would be announced at a reception attended by hundreds of people. It was a huge opportunity for recognition, and the co-op chose the application process as a catalyst for enhancing the co-op’s ability to convey how its work has benefited the community.

This year Oryana Natural Foods Market was the 2014 winner of the Hagerty award. The following week they were awarded the Traverse City State Bank “Caught Thriving Award” given to businesses that are financially viable, locally owned, with strong employee retention, and a unique story.

Nance said that though it’s always nice to win awards, it wasn’t their prime motivation. He thinks rising to the challenge of putting the spotlight on the co-op where it belongs, has resulted in greater accountability to the co-op’s owners, more staff participation, and increased momentum to partner with other organizations in new regions of the city. Not to mention great press. Nance was busy with newspaper and radio interview requests afterward—offering even more opportunities to talk about the co-op’s values.

Nance also credits the hard work and creativity of his new marketing and communications manager, Marika BeVier, for putting together a team focused on education, events and outreach that got the message out about the co-op’s community focus. This team drew on the co-op’s Ends (mission and values) to demonstrate the co-op difference during the Hagerty judges’ site visit. Judges were given a shopping basket to carry on their store tour with Nance. The team set up stations around the store for each End, and employees would explain how the co-op fulfilled its mission in that area, and give each judge a sample of a product that represented it. After all the staff put into the co-op’s application process for the award, they were so proud that the co-op won. “It was powerful for staff to hear,” Nance said.

The application process also helped them create benchmarks for things they had not been consistent about keeping track of regarding positive environmental impacts, employee relationships and sustainable agricultural activities. Nance believes confirming these things and continuing to improve them is a best practice, for both reporting and as a necessary tool for showing the community why the co-op matters. “The exercise of taking stock moved our strategic initiative forward. It was extremely valuable,” he said. “It’s led to more ideas about what to track and what to trumpet.”
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4PCG Focus—Democracy: successfully practicing, protecting, promoting, and perpetuating our healthy democracies. Each issue of Connections will focus on one pillar of the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance. For more information about 4PCG, read the articles in the January/February 2014 andMarch/April 2014 issues of Cooperative Grocer.

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