Wrestling with Values & Growth: A Long-term Planning Update

Since the summer of 2018, the Collective Management has been actively investigating opening a second store in the Lents Town Center near SE 92nd & Foster. That process has included gathering feedback from current Member-Owners, engaging with folks that live near the proposed second store about their thoughts and concerns, taking a look at our staff capacity, and putting together financial projections about how a second store could work out.

While some Member-Owners have expressed concern about the possibility of a second store in Lents, many others have shared their support for a People’s in a new neighborhood. We’ve also heard widespread enthusiasm from the Lents community about the possibility of a People’s there, as well as some questions about how to make sure that the store reflects the neighborhood and its needs.

As we consider both staff capacity and how it interacts with the financial projections for a store in Lents, things become more complicated. The Collective has struggled with high turnover for the past few years, and in 2018 that meant investing significant time (and therefore money) training and supporting new staff. At the same time, our financial projections tell us that if a second store in Lents is going to be successful, we need to decrease our labor hours and expenses significantly. And with sales declining steadily, maintaining that high labor percentage costs to the Co-op more, proportionate to what we’re bringing in. If we’re going to open a second store and run it successfully, we’re going to need to operate this business much more efficiently.

This presents a conundrum because of the way that we run our business. Of course, operating the Co-op sustainably and making a profit is an important part of our work – that’s a huge reason why we’ve invested so much time and money trying to create a long-term plan that will work for People’s. But there are other things that we value, too! We have a democratic workplace where all workers get to have a say in the decisions that are made about how the store is run. We’re also committed to confronting and dismantling systems of oppression that show up here, including: white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and classism. We make decisions about how to care for our building or supply the store that are sometimes more expensive because they are better for the earth or workers throughout the supply chain. And we try to compensate workers fairly for the work that they do here, including a generous health care package and a wage scale that doesn’t distinguish between different kinds of work.

Unlike many other businesses that prioritize economic returns over how they do business or decide to do the work outlined above only when its convenient, working to live out the values expressed in our Ends is a central part of our work at People’s. It’s what makes this place different and is one reason why the Co-op is so important to so many people.

The Collective is working hard to figure out what it will look like for the staff to reduce our labor expenses while maintaining or even growing our sales. We’re reaching out to the broader co-op community for help and guidance, and communicating closely with the Board about the changes we are working towards. We hope that we can do this work within a time frame that will work for the Lents Town Center project because we are really excited about what we could bring to Lents and are invested in the relationships that we’ve already formed there. We’ll have more information to share about how we’ll be proceeding in the spring, but for now we are taking time to focus on our internal operations and the work that needs to happen for us to be ready to grow.

If you have skills, questions, or input to offer, we always welcome them. Feel free to reach out to the Long-term Planning Committee at planning@peoples.coop.