Lexington Real Foods Community Co-op
Number of members: 1,550
Equity investment: $80 one-time stock purchase
Years in current location: 26
Retail square footage: 1,200
Total square footage: 2,400
Number of staff: 21
Annual sales: $1.8 million
Tim Bartlett, general manager of Lexington Real Foods Community Co-op, knows first-hand the value of what can come out of a professional appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses.
About two years ago Bartlett began a process of managerial assessment that he said came about because he started to feel burned out and not up to the task of managing a store in addition to leading an expansion project. “I was still pricing product from deliveries and filling shifts on the floor. The store was at $1.2 million in sales then. I didn’t know how to make the transition from a hands-on manager to a systems manager,” Bartlett said. At the time he thought he should reconsider his work at the co-op. He decided to go to the Consumer Cooperative Managers Association (CCMA) conference that year and find out if there was some way he could recover his sense of purpose, perhaps get inspired by other general managers in attendance.
Bartlett’s initial self-diagnosis of the problem—that he was not equipped for the next step for his co-op—was true. But from the professional advice he received at the conference he learned that the real problem wasn’t his lack of ability or even motivation—what he really needed to do was quit stocking groceries and take stock of the current operation at his co-op instead.
It was an organizational process akin to soul-searching. How do you reinvigorate the spirit in a business? Bartlett did it by evaluating what needed to change in his role as general manager to sustain the co-op’s growth and begin the expansion project process. He credits a mentorship relationship with Bill Gessner of CDS as an important component for moving toward a new systems management operation. “He guided me through the process of looking at management systems, personnel issues and building a management team,” Bartlett said.
From those assessments, an external location research study, and a good look at finances, the co-op was able to move forward and institute changes that have led to preparing to relocate and expand to a 5,000 square foot retail store by October this year. “We knew we had to build organizational capacity and get more focused and stronger at what we did,” Bartlett said. One powerful management tool he implemented was a quarterly work plan for department managers and staff. By putting that in place, Bartlett had a system through which staff training and alignment issues could be addressed as personnel worked toward their goals. Bartlett also instituted a daily walk-through system assessing store readiness and continual improvement every day.
Bartlett said of the plan, “It’s not something that’s left in a drawer. The quarterly work plan is an active document. Everyone writes their own plan with some guidance from me.” The quarterly work plan also functions as continual assessment for the staff as they work toward the whole store’s yearly goals. “It’s been an amazing system for getting everyone on the same page and developing higher standards.”
Bartlett readily admits that before his trip to CCMA two years ago he felt “demoralized,” and now he feels a sense of empowerment and excitement for the future. Now that he’s joined the ranks of the kind of general manager he once looked to for advice, he humbly offers a bit of his own. He said, “Go back to the basics. Look at how to be better grocers. After we did that, sales picked up and so did profits. Then we were able to invest in cooperation and community, all because of our emphasis on having a great store every day.”