How We're Deciding: The Long-term Planning Decision Making Process

With the recently announced long-term planning proposals, a lot of Member-Owners have been asking how decisions about our long-term plan will be made, and how decisions are made at the Co-op in general.

Broadly speaking, the Board (elected by you, our Member-Owners) has delegated operational decisions to the Collective Management, a group of about thirty staff members who work in teams and as a whole to run the store. Operational decisions include everything from the products we carry, to worker health care benefits, to the annual budget, to what events we hold, and so much more. The Board's job is to ensure the Co-op is run in a way that is financially responsible, legally sound, and in line with our Ends. The Board keeps tabs on how the Collective and the Co-op are doing via reports about a variety of things: our Ends, financials, our public image, staff satisfaction, and more. To ensure that communication is clear and ongoing, three Collective Managers are currently tasked with providing a link between the Collective and the Board. Additionally, one Collective Manager also serves on the Board of Directors. Of course, Collective Managers and Board directors have individual and positional relationships that encourage other communication and conversations, too.

Included in this, the Board has delegated the decisions regarding growth and expansion to the Collective within certain parameters: that the process takes Member-Owner input into account, that the project is researched for financial feasibility and meets particular financial benchmarks, that the Collective engages appropriate experts outside of the Co-op to support our process and inform our decision, and that our long-term plan advances the Co-op's work towards our Ends.

If the plan or the planning process doesn't meet those qualifications, the Board can require the Collective Management to re-evaluate or change directions in order to fulfill them. The Board also has jurisdiction over real estate acquisitions and any major loans that the Co-op takes on. This means that ultimately they have to be on board with any major plan that the Collective generates in order for it to be able to be implemented.

The long-term planning process that we're currently engaged in started two years ago with the formation of the Long-term Planning Committee. The Committee was charged with investigating how the Co-op could grow in order to move us towards our Ends, but also to address issues arising at the Co-op: that we're maxing out our space which has resulted in low sales growth and that space is tight for customers and staff, among other reasons. (You can read more about that here.)

 Our original process map outlines how we're making the decision about our plan! We're almost to Step 4!

Our original process map outlines how we're making the decision about our plan! We're almost to Step 4!

To kick off our research of potential projects, the Long-term Planning Committee organized a series of listening sessions with Member-Owners and community members to hear what their priorities for the Co-op were. There was also space for Member-Owners to share their biggest, wildest dreams for the Co-op as well as what their particular needs from the Co-op are. We also conducted interviews with a number of community organizations (OSALT, Adelante Mujeres, Sisters of the Road, the Portland Mercado, and the Healthy Birth Initiative) that are also doing work towards our Ends to hear about any gaps that might exist that the Co-op would be able to fill. We also surveyed vendors and farmers.

We took the information that we heard during those outreach sessions and came up with some concrete ideas of what long-term projects the Co-op could undertake. As we were narrowing down our ideas, we did so in conversation with the Board of Directors to keep them apprised of our choices. We also had conversations with the Collective and the Board about what might actually be feasible -- financially, logistically, and in terms of our staff capacity.

Not unexpectedly, all of our ideas included expanding our grocery store. After all, running a grocery store is our expertise and increasing our sales is a major way to work on our financial feasibility. From that narrowing by the Collective, the Long-term Planning Committee started to research where else we might be able to open another location in the Portland area. We looked at where our competitors are located or have planned locations, followed leads suggested by Member-Owners and other community members, and talked to lots of folks: community groups and organizations, business associations, nonprofits, city planners, other business owners, and more. We also invited National Cooperative Grocers to do an organizational readiness assessment at People’s and make suggestions. This process narrowed our expansion options to Montavilla, Milwaukie, Lents, as well as relocating to a larger location in our current neighborhood. We enlisted a market research company out of Seattle to look closer at those neighborhoods in terms of their financial capacity to support a new or larger co-op.

Throughout this process, the Long-term Planning Committee has been in conversation with the Board of Directors, bouncing ideas off of them and talking about what the implications of different plans might be for the Co-op and our Member-Owners. We’ve also been really open to other feedback from Member-Owners throughout the process, fielding emails and suggestions -- especially with the recent news break about our narrowed project ideas. We really do want to hear from you, really do value your input, and certainly respect the stake that our Member-Owners have in this business.

So, to summarize:

  • Our Member-Owners and broader community provided their dreams and needs for the co-op

  • The Collective Management figured out how those dreams and needs can be met in a way that’s feasible for the Co-op in the long-term, with guidance and boundaries from the Board, while also addressing our primary reasons for creating this long-term plan.

That brings us to where we are at now! In the next few weeks, the Collective Management will meet to make a final decision about which development project we’re going to pursue: opening a second store in one of the neighborhoods we’ve narrowed to, or relocating to a larger location near our current store. Once we make that decision, we’ll talk more with the Board. We’re also working on organizing feedback sessions for Member-Owners to share their reactions and hear more about the Collective’s decision-making process. We’ll hold at least two of these with twelve Member-Owners each, chosen randomly from folks that express interest in participating (email us at planning@peoples.coop if you’re interested, too). We’ll also have online surveys for folks that want to provide feedback but can’t make it to one of the sessions. We’re planning a third feedback session with other stakeholders, including other members of the co-op community in Portland. These meetings (and all of the other ways that we hear from Member-Owners) will help us to figure out whether we’re on the right track. From there, we’re aiming to make a big formal announcement in the fall Grassroots in October and kick of Co-op Month celebrating that we have a plan (finally!) and talk to more Member-Owners about it.

That’s when implementation starts: working hard to find a location for a new store (whether that’ll be a 2nd store or single larger store) that will meet our practical needs and be as much of an anchor in our community as our current building is; planning a fundraising campaign and seeking loans; figuring out how to grow our staff and maintain our Collective while becoming more nimble and efficient; working out what new things will be in our new space (a deli? a cafe? a bakery?); and so many other details. We’ll need your help with lots of that, and know that this passionate community is ultimately what grounds us and moves us towards our Ends.

Our aim has always been to be transparent and open with our Member-Owners. We know that this process has taken a long time, and that a lot of you have probably been waiting for information and affirmation that you’re central to what we’re doing here. It’s been hard for us, too, that this has taken so long. But we’re moving through the planning process, and we’re beginning to work out the details of our plan. Upcoming phases of our expansion will also be hard and they will also probably take longer than we want them to.

This is also really, really exciting, though. We’re taking this big step together, in an effort to move us toward our Ends and to keep the Co-op viable for another 50 years. What we’re doing at the Co-op is really important, and has started to feel even more crucial lately: we -- this community of Member-Owners -- are providing terrific food to our community, in a way that advocates for the land, animals, farmers, workers, and eaters throughout the food system. We’re doing this not to make profit, but to provide a service to our community and an alternative to corporate business-as-usual. That’s important, compelling work that we can only keep doing if we figure out a way to grow together. That’s what this long-term plan is for.

So, let’s talk about it! If you have any questions or want any clarification, we really urge you to be in touch with the Long-term Planning Committee at planning@peoples.coop. Please let us know, too, if you are interested in being a part of our feedback sessions in September. Here’s another recent blog post with updates about the options that we are currently considering. If you want more context about why the Co-op is talking about expanding, check out peoples.coop/vision and always feel free to be in touch with the Long-term Planning Committee by emailing planning@poeples.coop. A reminder that Member-Owners are also always invited to attend Board of Directors meetings, which happen on the 4th Tuesday of the month at 6pm, with free dinner starting at 5:30pm.