Check here often for new questions and updated answers.
How does the Viroqua Food Cooperative know it is time to grow?
The decision to pursue expansion is made by the Board on the recommendation of the General Manager and her leadership team. We’ve been soliciting feedback from owners about expansion since 2013. (See sidebar). Expansion has been taking place for several years.
Recent Expansion Projects
• 2011 - the east parking lot was added to address limited parking
• 2014-15 we added 1000 square feet to our back room to address safety and stocking issues.
Important issues remain:
• $7million annual sales through three check stands is hard on our cashiers
• We produce nearly $5,000 in Deli Department sales daily in a kitchen built for $1,000 of sales
• Insufficient seating that is limiting our ability to serve owners and draw new customers
• Demand for new services that cannot be accomplished with our current space limitations
• During peak shopping hours both parking lots are full.
A professional Market Study and analysis was initiated by the VFC Board and completed in 2015.
The Market Study found that our market area could support a much larger retail store. The Market Study indicated that with more space we can meet our needs with a more complete bakery program, greater selection of meat, poultry and seafood, a more full-service deli with a larger seating area, along with more space for our current departments.
Yes, we are expanding, but the scope of the expansion is still undecided. First we need to check our assumptions against how the owners feel about it with survey data.
Did you ask the Owners about expansion?
Yes. The Board of Directors are the elected representatives to envision and articulate the future of the VFC. For the past three years the Board has been seeking input from our Owners about the growth question. To kick off the idea, in 2013 they hosted a Community Conversation event for Co-op Stakeholders, followed by Coffee with the Board events in the winter months, as well as were present and identified at numerous in-house Co-op events. Most recently, expansion was discussed at the October 2015 Annual Owners Meeting. See the sidebar on the right side of this page for past articles about the expansion process.
Will VFC owners get to vote on the expansion?
We don’t plan to ask Owners to vote on an expansion project, as that’s not how the VFC’s decision-making model is set up. Rather, the Board of Directors has and will continue to seek owner feedback through a variety of channels, so that we can use that direction in our decision-making process.
As part of our cooperative structure, each VFC Member-Owner is able and encouraged to vote for Board of Directors candidates each year. These Directors are elected to represent owner interests, and are empowered to make important decisions on their behalf. The Board carries the fiduciary* responsibility for the VFC, and must approve any real estate purchases or construction projects.
The Board has spent the last three+ years learning about co-op expansions, consulting with experts, and soliciting feedback from VFC Owners on the idea of a growth project. We are prepared to make the complex decisions to best serve the VFC Owners.
The scope of the expansion is still undecided. The Board is examining the April 2016 Owner Survey data to ensure it aligns with the owner input we have received thus far. We will also be hosting a community conversation once blueprints are drafted to hear owner input on the proposed plan. As always, the Board welcomes owner feedback and questions through the form on the Board Section of the VFC website, and during co-op events like P6 Tailgate Parties and Coffee with the Board.
*A fiduciary is a person or group who holds a legal and ethical relationship of trust with one or more parties. When a party knowingly accepts a fiduciary duty on behalf of another party, they are required to act in the best interest of the party whose assets they are managing.
Will VFC Owners continue to have input into the project process?
Yes. VFC Owners, along with VFC Staff and Board, participate in a community process that enables the Co-op to gather feedback on our plans for expansion. The next opportunity for feedback is the Owner Survey, March 21 through April 8, with a special section on expansion.
How does expansion serve the VFC community?
We’ve been hearing from VFC Owners that they’d like to see the VFC make local and organic food even more accessible than it is now. This includes more ready-to-eat foods, more fresh meat/deli items, and a wider array of product options. We’ve also heard that our Deli and seating area is very valuable to the community, but people want more of it. So as a Board we’ve been exploring ways to provide Owners with what they want, and have also done a Market Study to see where there are unmet needs in our community.
From our listening sessions and outreach to Owners, we’ve been hearing that yes, an expansion would help us further the Mission of the Co-op and is in line with our community values. It’s our job as Board members to represent VFC Owners’ wants and needs. Your voice is important; we hope you will choose some of the upcoming opportunities to offer your feedback.
What’s the ecological impact of an expansion?
It depends on the scope of the final project. A bigger store will of course use more energy and water, but we’ll also be providing services that some people drive to La Crosse or elsewhere for now. We are eager to explore green building and renewable energy options for the expansion project. And of course, as our overall sales increase, so will the sales of local and organic products, so we’ll be helping support more sustainable farming practices, which is one of our goals.
We're still working through what a store expansion could look like, and will share details with Owners once we have them. It's important to us that the store provides adequate parking and accessibility for shoppers, so we asked the city to consider closing the street between the store and our additional parking lot. On March 29, after considerable discussion, the City Council voted 6 to 3 in favor of closing 132 feet of Center Avenue directly behind the Co-op.
Will food prices at the Co-op increase because of the project?
No. The costs associated with expanding our store will not impact prices of products. Retail prices are driven by several factors, including: cost of goods from vendors, costs for product ingredients, packaging, and transportation. Weather events that impact product availability can also contribute to price increases.
The VFC is like other grocery stores in that the more food we sell, the lower our cost of goods. As our sales increase, we would expect to see cost savings that we then pass on to shoppers. It also can be expensive not to expand when your sales exceed a certain dollar value per square foot. Employees make due with less than ideal work spaces, it takes more labor hours to stock the shelves since all product delivered cannot be put out, creating inefficiencies.
Will the expansion include more parking?
Yes. We purchased the Sidie Lawn & Sport Center property located on Broadway and Center. Phase I of the parking lot construction project is now complete (CLICK HERE for details). We are working with the city to connect our parking to the store by closing the portion of Center Avenue directly behind the VFC. This will also create a safe and inviting entrance for those who walk and bike to the Co-op.
Will an expanded store offer services that aren’t currently available?
Yes. Through years of research and inquiry, we learned that VFC Owners want more of what the Co-op does well: access to natural food and continued expansion of the Mission. VFC Owners do want new services: an expanded deli, full service meat and seafood counter, catering, a juice bar, full bakery and beer and wine for the seating area. This correlates with what the market study found (see question #1). We will try to include as many as these services as possible.
Can I purchase Class C Stock?
We are preparing to offer Class C Stock to our membership. This stock builds the Co-op’s equity, making our position stronger when applying for financing. We will announce the details on our website as soon as they are ready.
Will an expansion project impact my Patronage Refund?
It may. In years in which the Co-op is profitable, the Board of Directors declares a Patronage Refund. In the midst of an expansion project, it is possible that the Co-op will not be profitable, and therefore a Patronage Refund may not be declared.