A few years ago we had a group of Member-Owners that met to discuss what being a Member-Owner of the Coop means and how we can make the Coop be as welcoming to everyone in our community as we can be. One of the more unfriendly things we do is charge non-members 10% above shelf price. We are always careful to ask non-members if they know about the surcharge and if they don’t know, we charge them member price. But what if we no longer charged that 10% to non-members…why become a member if you aren’t going to save 10%? How many of you joined just to save the 10%?
One of the first questions that comes up when I talk with people about this is: Why not make the shelf price the non-member price and then give all Member-Owners a 10% discount? One reason not to do that is that unless someone was really paying attention all of the time, we would look like the most expensive store in New England! No one would consistently remember to subtract 10% when deciding whether or not to buy something. We have been working very hard to change the perception that the Co-op is an expensive place to shop. We are constantly doing price comparisons and lowering prices.
If we eliminate the 10% surcharge, what would entice someone to join the Co-op? How much of the reasoning would be monetary and how much would be philosophical?
If becoming a Member-Owner of the Willimantic Food Co-op required the same $120 refundable equity investment as now, but rather than entitling you to save 10% because now everyone would pay shelf price, all Member-Owners would get these financial benefits –
- 10% off coupons 4 times/year
- Member only sales
- Pre order discounts on case amounts
- Option to be a working member
Being a Member-Owner also would continue to have the benefits of
- Running for the Board of Directors
- Voting in Board elections
- Voting on all major decisions i.e. By-Laws revisions, the purchase of 87 Church Street
As well as all of the less tangible aspects –
- Knowing that your equity investment and on going support of the Co-op via shopping helps to ensure our continued existence.
- Supporting the local economy through the Co-op’s purchase of produce and value added products from farms and small businesses in our community.
- Providing employment that pays a living wage (after one year) and fair labor practices to more than 30 people.
- Being part of a group making significant donations to Non-Profits in our Community that make a difference in the quality of life in our area.
I really do want to know how our Member-Owners feel about removing the 10% surcharge to non-members. I would like to do a wooden nickel vote – sort of like a straw poll – to see what the general thought on making this change is. If it is a resounding – Get Rid of It!, then we will. If it is a clear – No Way – it stays. Somewhere in the middle, well, then I guess we’ll have to vote!
I would also love to hear more about what membership means to all of our Member-Owners. Please write me a note, or contact me.
Thank you all for being part of our Food Co-op.
Alice Rubin, General Manager
Adapted from our newsletter The Compost.
Non-Member Surcharge Feedback
Q. Please lower prices (256 people want that)
A. By what, 10%?
Q. Have the system automatically add 10% for affected items if one does not scan their member card. That way it is enforced without cashier interaction and would spur membership sign-ups.
A. Good idea. That way we won’t have to print out thousands of new shelf tags.
Q. Get rid of the surcharge, but require non-members to sport a yellow “Male kohlrabi great again” hat while shopping there.
Non-Member Surcharge Questions and Comments
Q. What is the percentage of customers that are members and not members?
A. In 2017, 86.63% of sales were to members.
C. The proposal seems like a bad deal for members whose capital has made the Co-op a successful undertaking over the long term.
C. Add benefits to be a member!
C. I hate coupons.
C. I oppose this – paid my dues to support the coop.
C. I love being a member but my $120 equity seems pretty meaningless at this point. I calculate my dues so far = $7.50/year. Still, I like the token monetary commitment to the Co-op! Don’t know how to vote!