I’m writing to you today to provide an update on a series of financial and operational challenges our community has been facing for the past year, and particularly over the past six months. In addition to the update, I want to make you aware of actions we are taking to address these challenges and to once again, seek your support. The urgency of our situation has not declined since my last message a few months ago, if anything it has increased, and so we must act swiftly and decisively to continue to serve the best interests of our members and the wider Kilmainham community.
The pandemic has been a hugely challenging time for everyone including our members, but it’s been particularly challenging for our staff and volunteers who have worked through a tremendously difficult time to operate a retail shop. You’ve likely already noted increased advertising and competitive marketing between the major retail grocery chains. This is because, as restrictions have lifted, consumers are now eating out more and purchasing less groceries. Sales are lower across the board. Inflation has also hit the sector which for us has meant increased prices from our suppliers which we have thus far largely absorbed. As a result we have seen a negative impact on our margins and
You may have also noted that because of Covid, shops and other services are running into staffing shortages due to illness and close contact absences. For us, the last few months have been especially difficult for the management team as they have tried to keep the doors open despite illnesses, turnover in staff, and lower volunteering levels to supplement staff positions. This was particularly felt in the most recent resignation of our newly hired General Manager.
These challenges are significant but they are not insurmountable. We are taking a number of actions over the coming months to bring the Co-op back to a sustainable and healthy business model. The first of these actions is detailed below and the rest will be communicated as the Co-ordinating Body continues to meet over the coming weeks.
In order to support our shop team with an intensive post-pandemic training programme, review and revise our staffing structures and recruit new staff and additional volunteers, we will slightly reduce shop hours in March and April, opening later in the morning. The hours are detailed as follows:
We have made this decision as mornings are the quietest part of the day, with Monday and Tuesday morning being particularly quiet, and therefore we believe these changes will not impact on the vast majority of our members and customers. We understand that these changes will not suit everyone, but we hope we have the balance right and that those affected can adapt.
During March and April we will review shop sales and staffing/volunteering levels and make further adjustments as necessary.
If you are unable to adapt to these changes, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will work with you to find a solution. We don’t want any member to lose access to the co-operative during this time.
Additionally, if you can, please consider joining the help rota today.
The volunteering discount in the shop provides an important benefit to members, and it is a vital part of our model because it gives every member the opportunity to contribute.
Co-op volunteer Andrew stacking the shelves
As we emerge from the pandemic and in order for the Co-op to continue offering our retail shop service to members we must return to our established model which included a significant volunteer presence in our operations.
Our situation is not unique. Other volunteer-based food co-operatives all over the world are having the same challenges. My hope is that our co-operative will navigate this transition successfully and my belief is that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to chart a new, sustainable, path.
The measures we’re taking now are meant to carry us through these uncertain times and leave us in good standing for the next challenges we will face, whatever they may be.
Over the coming weeks and months we’ll let you know how we’re progressing, and when our resilience planning is finalised we’ll communicate that as well.
My deepest thanks to all our members and volunteers for your continued support.
Yours In Co-operation,
Co-ordinating Body Chair