BY INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA- Every town has what it considers a gem, something to be proud of and something unique to show off.
For some Niskayuna residents, the town’s jewel is the Niskayuna Co-op.
But it’s lost a bit of it’s shine in the last few years, with the ShopRite market moving in and with online grocery sales increasing.
There are a plethora of competitors and of industry trends that the Co-op has to keep pace with.
But sales have fallen five percent since last year and according to the General Manager Jennifer Felitte.
The Co-op took a major hit when the ShopRite opened in 2011 and it hasn’t been the same since.
“Before ShopRite opened, annual sales were over ten million. Last year, we came in at about 9.3 million and we’ll come in around 8.8 million this year,” Felitte said.
Donna Evans, the chair of the board of directors, said that the Co-op is now working to create a strategic planning initiative to help redirect the store and to position the store for the future.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of listening to our audience. . . asking what do they need, how can we better serve them,” Evans said.
Then the committee who is putting the initiative together will also reexamine the mission statement, conduct an environmental assessment, and run a SWOT analysis (“strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats”).
This could take anywhere from six to nine months, said Evans.
“It’s been awhile since the Co-op looked strategically into the future. The Co-op will always stay rooted in tradition, those values will stay the same. We want to look ahead now,” Evans said.
Although their exact method of collecting the town’s view on the Co-op has not been planned yet, they’re considering doing a survey and talking with customers at events like their open house.
“We do an open house every year and this year it falls on November 12. It’s very festive and it’s a great way to get board members connected with members and just to draw people in who may not be members,” Felitte said.
Co-op membership is one of the things which sets the Co-op apart from other grocery store choices, according to Felitte.
“Anyone can join. It’s five dollars for life and you can pay as soon as you walk through the door,” Felitte said.
Members also have access to bi-annual meetings where the board members and managers inform them of the sales and of the general health of the business.
Members can also join any of the four committees: the marketing committee, the finance committee, the costumer service committee, or the strategic planning committee.
However, as of Nov. 3, there is only one member on these boards and the bi-annual membership meetings are sparsely attended.
“When I first started, there were more people involved,” Felitte said. There are around 7,000 active members/shoppers of the Co-op today.
Through their examination of the state of the business and of the industry, Evans and Felitte are hoping to increase membership involvement in the Co-op.
Maya McNulty, one Niskayuna community member, supports the Co-op, although she admits that she doesn’t shop there enough.
“I’m a huge supporter of farm to table and small businesses. The Co-op certainly promotes many of these key partners in their store. I believe that is one of their value proposition. Shoprite perhaps took the major brands because of buying power and distribution but I feel that the Niskayuna community still shops and supports the Co-op. The Co-op is more specialty and artisans in my opinion. Artisans don’t have the capacity to produce in larger volumes, nor do they have the facilities or distribution capabilities. It’s also my opinion that Niskayuna Co-op is our community gem. True validation is when our town celebrates Niska Day,” McNulty said.