On Tuesday, September 7th Prairie North Co-op President, Ed Dufault, and GM, Terry Tremblay sat down to to discuss the position of the co-operative at the midway point of 2021.
Question 1 (Ed): As we enter year two of our “new normal” and we begin to determine what our Co-op looks like post-COVID, what were some of the things that we learned? And follow-up question to that, how will those “lessons” if you like, benefit us moving forward?
Answer (Terry): We are more adaptable and nimbler than we thought possible, whether it was accepting online payment, ramping up delivery service at all locations, going to stocking our shelves at night to reduce the traffic or new sanitation practices our people were quick to adjust, to embrace change and keep a positive attitude for our members despite the stress and uncertainty that we were all facing. I believe this newfound strength will serve us well as we face future challenges.
Question 2 (Ed): Maybe update members on how our Co-op is doing financially at the mid-point of this year.
Answer (Terry): We are wrapping up our Q2 results for our 2021 fiscal year and results to date are very positive. We understand we are facing some challenges in the back half of this year particularly in our Ag and Petroleum departments as these commodities are linked to the challenges faced in the agriculture industry. The new efficiencies at our food stores and the addition of a liquor offering have had a positive impact on our results and we are striving to keep that momentum up.
Question 3 (Ed): It sounds like we are well positioned, are there any major developments you want to update the members on going forward?
Answer (Terry): In the next year we have several major capital projects that our members will see get under way:
1) Earlier this year we were proud to announce the construction of a new food store in the city of Melfort. Our current food store is over 40 years old and is nearing its end of life. This new build will ensure that Prairie North Co-op grocery customers in Melfort and surrounding area will be able to access our great Co-op products in a new food store that will allow us to leverage new technological advances in the food industry.
2) Members in, or passing through, Archerwill will see the C-store undergo a significant transformation as we are renewing and expanding the store to accommodate the recent addition of liquor into our offering there. Included will be upgraded pumps and a Cardlock offering that takes that traffic away from the front of the store
3) In the community of Kelvington, we have purchased enough land next to our liquor store to accommodate a new gas bar and c-store offering which will be developed by adding onto the existing liquor store. By using the existing building, we will be able to have a much larger footprint than would have been feasible if we built entirely from the ground up. We are currently working with the town and our developers towards a summer of 2022 construction that will ensure that the facility will better handle large vehicles like trucks, campers, and trailers than the site we currently operate out of.
4) Many other small upgrades and projects are also planned as we always strive to take care of our member assets to ensure long term viability.
5) Another major initiative that we have just launched is our Sustainable Communities Fund, an allocation of funds to non-profit organizations that support community development. The purpose of the fund is to provide support to capital projects and new programs that will enhance the quality of life for the people in the communities and surrounding region that make up the Prairie North Co-op trading area – Archerwill, Kelvington, Melfort, Naicam, Spalding, and St. Brieux. This is a very exciting new initiative that was recently approved by the board.
Ed, perhaps I could put a couple questions to you on behalf of the members?
Question 4 (Terry): Much of the success that we have experienced recently is largely due to a forwarding thinking Board of Directors. Can you talk about how the Board has been able to function through the pandemic?
Answer (Ed): Terry one of the biggest challenges when COVID hit was how to conduct our meetings and still provide a high level of safety to our Directors. The Board quickly came together using technology to create the virtual boardroom. This process has served us well over the past 18 months and there is no doubt it will provide the Board same opportunities to stay connected going forward without physically being present.
Question 5 (Terry): I appreciate the Board’s input, guidance, and real leadership in developing our long-term strategic plan maybe you could comment on some of the priorities that have been identified over the past year?
Answer (Ed): Great question Terry. One of the primary roles for the Board is to set the strategic direction for the Co-operative to be successful. We meet yearly to plan and are constantly evaluating the 5- and 10-year plans. This process is important as it gives us an opportunity to review and evaluate our holdings. The recent announcement of the new Food Store build in the Stonebridge development in Melfort is a result of this annual review. And just like Melfort, we are building and re-investing in the other five communities in which we operate. We have committed to spend $17 million over the next 3 years.
Question 6 (Terry): Are there any other comments you would like to make or thoughts that you would like to leave the members with as we move into the second half of 2021?
Answer (Ed): Two things I would like to comment on –
1) the first is our most recent announcement of the "Sustainable Communities Fund". Funding will be allocated each year based on gross sales. In this initial year we have approved 25 thousand dollars that we hope can help some of the great organizations we work with. Applications are now open until September 30th, on the Prairie North Co-op website. A link will be provided in the comments of this video.
2) the second is that I would like to thank our management and staff for all the great work they have done to provide service to our members over the past 18 months. I believe we have risen to the challenges presented by COVID and have provided a valuable service to our members at a time of uncertainty. We recognize that we are not completely in the clear of this pandemic and we need our members to understand that we will continue to be there to provide the goods and services they have come to rely on throughout Prairie North Co-op.