Original

The following commentary is solely the opinion of me, and should be taken as such. I don’t claim to know everything, nor to have all relevant information, but I can still have an opinion. Besides, I have decided to switch tactics, and use the daily prompt exercise to work out my feelings about work and employment. Thank you, and please enjoy.

Be original. I work at a grocery store (that is not original, but bear with me). This store is a member-owned cooperative, and when it began, back in the 1970s, it was an original, the only natural and organic market in the state. Being locally-based, it also had that original concept to itself when other, bigger, national chains moved into the territory back in the 1990s.

Well, the past decade has seen some intense competition as even more markets (the conventional, big-time chain stores) got into the organic food game. This round of competition and encroachment has seriously hindered the growth, even the survival, of my beloved coop.

Now, the current management team (a group of guys that have all migrated from one of our competitors, a pretend natural foods store which markets itself as a farmer’s market) has a strategy to navigate these tricky times: mix in some lower-quality, cheaper items, lower prices by seeking out better deals (regardless of who those deals are made with), and try to compete with the big stores at their own game. This might work, it’s true. The coop might just make it, at least when looked at and measured from a financial perspective.

But it begs the question (and plenty more people than just me and my opinion are begging this question): if the coop survives in name, but not in spirit, did it really survive? You see, this is not just any old business that measures success through  a balance sheet. The community-owned coop also has a foundation of local support, of sustainability, of stewardship of the earth. (not to mention fair and respectful treatment of staff, which is going out the window quickly with a management team made up of conventional, discount-grocery castoffs).

Cheap, conventionally-grown products do not honor that foundation. Nor does finding cheaper produce through a larger, national distribution outfit, when a regionally-based, woman-owned, organic partner is still available.

So what is my original suggestion? I am not the first or only one to suggest sticking with what made you great in the first place. Go organic, sustainable, go all-in on the mission to be fair and locally-based and 100% natural. Go back to the roots, perhaps commit to being a smaller, less growth-oriented business. This would all take some original thinking on the part of the board of directors, the elected body which determines direction for the coop and supervises the general manager.

In a time of bigger is better, of national and multi-national chains, of growth and cheap prices and wheeling/dealing, be original. Be small, be true, be good. Let go of a little profit in order to be a little better.

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