We all come together because of our shared interest in this cooperative, but what does it mean to be a co-op, anyway? The U.S. Small Business Administration defines a co-op as “a business or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services.” It’s easy to see how that’s us. Yet, as we look closer, we see that there are several different ways that a person can be part of the way Honest Weight has structured this business model. While the store is open to the public, it is owned by the Shareholders and operated by Staff and Member-Owners (the latter being Shareholders who donate their time to the Co-op).
A quick overview shows us that there are a few different levels of involvement for Member-Owners. Page 12 of the Owners’ Manual spells out the different time investments and corresponding levels of discounts at the register for each scenario. Other benefits and obligations are detailed in the manual as well. Reasons to participate are as numerous and varied as the Member-Owners themselves.
Recent Changes in Member-Owner Participation
A significant and disturbing trend over the past two years has been a decline in the number of Member-Owners participating in the day-to-day operation of the store. Janet Sorrell, who recently left the position of Honest Weight’s Owner Services Coordinator, kept track of the Member-Owner monthly and yearly participation hours. According to Janet, the number of Member-Owner hours working in the store has decreased by about 40 percent since May 2015, going from 972 Member-Owners who invested 8,192 hours on the floor, to 499 Member-Owners in May 2017 who provided a total of 4,926 hours on the floor. Furthermore, out of 12,030 Shareholders, fewer than 4 percent currently participate by helping out on the floor.
Member-Owners can make significant contributions in other ways: Outreach, committee work, teaching, and even writing for and producing the Co-op Voice, but we must not underestimate the value of and need for more members on the floor. After all, this is where the Co-op makes the money that funds outreach, charity, and community and neighborhood programs.
Benefits of Member-Owner Participation
Furthering the case for member participation, Janet noted that “having Member-Owners make time investments is integral to our identity as a co-op.” According to her, there are many interrelated reasons and motivations for involvement in the store’s operations: community building, sponsorship of an alternative economic model, support of the local economy as indicated in our Mission Statement, and having a voice in company policy regarding food sourcing.
And then there is the membership discount, a savings that for some is a huge motivating factor for participating in the Co-op’s operations. It’s easy to see why, because by investing the maximum number of hours, Member-Owners receive a whopping 24 percent discount off their purchases at Honest Weight. Member-Owners can also opt to invest fewer hours per month and receive a 10 percent discount—still a sizable savings!
And spending time making the Co-op what it is is FUN! Through a time contribution to the Co-op, Member-Owners meet other committed, thoughtful people and will probably learn something new, broadening their horizons in new and unforeseen territory.
This is precisely the personal experience described by Bruce Michael Scrafford, a Member-Owner who makes his weekly time investment at the register. He says, “I enjoy the interaction with the customers the most. And then there is the sense of being part of a community of caring, conscious people….I realize I feel a sense of pride about being part of the Co-op when talking to people that come through my line to check out.” Chatting about new products and membership opportunities adds to what he feels is a positive experience.
Gary Edelman, Member-Owner and some-time employee, has a strong feeling of ownership from his 27-year affiliation with the Co-op. Currently, he works as cashier, although he briefly worked in Grocery in the past. Gary comments, “Cashiering is great because I get to see and interact with our ever-expanding community of members and shoppers.”
Diana Shannon teaches a weekly Spanish class at the Co-op, but she logs more hours on the floor in the Grocery Department and has been doing this for two years. She says she has a unique feeling of being appreciated for doing a simple task well. She stocks and organizes the tea shelf and loves it!
Integrating Member-Owners in Store Operations
While scheduling employees and Member-Owners to cover the tasks of each department can pose challenges to Management, the practice is vital and crucial to our mission. Wellness Department Manager Alex Mytelka says, “The major advantage I see to covering responsibilities with Member-Owners is creating a greater sense of community and comradery amongst those who frequent the Co-op. In the Wellness Department, many of our best customers are Member Owners.” There are 12 Member-Owners who make their time investment in the Wellness Department, along with eight employees; 3-5 more Member-Owners are currently needed to add to the team. For obvious reasons, Member-Owners in Wellness can expect to spend a significant amount of time in training, but all Department members must have a minimum baseline understanding of the Department’s product offerings in order to process orders, back-stock products, and provide excellent customer service, in addition to other tasks. Dedication and reliability are crucial for Wellness, and for every department in the store.
Other jobs in various departments offer more scheduling flexibility. Tam Kistler helps keep the Grocery Department shelves stocked. One thing that makes her participation possible, given her busy schedule, is that she can have some time flexibility, as long as she accomplishes the goal at hand.
While there is a long waiting list to buy shares and join the Co-op, that option is still not possible until the Attorney General’s Office allows it. Here are some ways to stay tuned: come to Board meetings, check for updates on the Board’s section of the Honest Weight website or their bulletin board near the Co-op exit door, and look for the Board’s Inside Scoop emailings.
Still, right now any current Shareholder can become a Member-Owner simply by contacting the Owner Services Coordinator at memberservices AT honestweight.coop. (Janet will be monitoring that email account until the position is filled,) about where and how you would like to invest your time in the Co-op. Member-Owner opportunities can be found here, and Shareholders are encouraged to step in on the floor in Bulk, Produce, Grocery, Meat and Seafood, Wellness, Cheese, and Plants. Who doesn’t want to spend more time around our great products?