The Vancouver Food Cooperative shall hold a meeting to discuss concrete plans for a cooperative grocery store this coming Wednesday, August 27, 2008. To be held downstairs at the Fort Vancouver Regional Library, 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd, the meeting begins at 6:30 pm and is open to the general public according to FVRL policy. Called last May by owners under RCW 24.06.100, this special meeting is for the board to provide a progress report to owners, including a publicly-available version of the business and marketing plan from now until opening of a retail store. To meet the owners’ petition, this plan shall include a clear branding, marketing and financing strategy, with benchmarks indicated in terms of members and/or dollars needed to successfully open a storefront.
Below are my comments in advance of such a meeting.
Stand and Deliver: An Honest Proposal for the Current VFC Board
by Rory Bowman, Petitioning Owner
From 2003-2007 the stated goal of the Vancouver Food Cooperative was to open a modest grocery store in west Vancouver. After a variety of false starts, NWCDC was paid for a feasibility study which indicated that this was possible, VFC incorporated and an interim board of directors began an ownership drive in July of 2007. Having agreed not to identify specific locations until there was at least $100,000 cash on hand, they also approved "pro forma" financial projections from Bill Gessner and a market area study from Pete Davis, both nationally-recognized consultants with Cooperative Development Services. These reports were scheduled for delivery by the end of January, 2008, and would help complete a business plan draft narrative from September of 2007 in time for the February annual meeting. That did not happen.
Instead, Sunrise O'Mahoney entered into conversations for possible sites outside of the agreed project area, and privately contacted Pete Davis in late January or early February to delay the market study. My best guess is that one proposed property was part of the Bybee extension in west Camas, which would involve rezoning of a 6-8 acre parcel by developer named David Lugliani who runs a company called American Pacific Communities. There is a woman by the name of Diana Howes who has been trying to assemble a woman-owned "eco village" in this area. How Sunrise entered into these talks does not matter. What matters is that her unilateral decision helped derail all previous business planning and the owner drive.
Without advising the interim board as to what she had done, O'Mahoney had Davis delay his study and asked him to keep this fact from other board members. In concert with Heather Lehman, decisive action was taken to remove all mention of west Vancouver from the share agreement flyer and VFC web site without explanation, promoting distrust among key volunteers, including board members. In the few months since the board election, four of nine elected board members have resigned "to spend more time with their families." Having already lost a thirty-year marketing veteran and two MBA's, I predict at least two more such resignations before the end of this calendar year.
What is left of the Vancouver Food Cooperative board has demonstrated that they are unable to execute their previously-stated goals, and shown a remarkable indifference to proper business planning. When a group of owners presented them with a petition for a special meeting in May, their first reaction was to contact a lawyer to see if they could avoid such a meeting. When they learned they could not, they have done as much as possible to avoid any mention of the meeting, and chose not to send out a meeting notice by mail, as legally required. They do not appear to have a clear and actionable plan to fulfill the original mission as previously stated on all VFC materials for a cooperative grocery in west Vancouver. Of the 147 owners who joined VFC by March, 2008, every one of them signed on to support a cooperative that would help the entire county but be located in west Vancouver. Of the other 17, it is hard to say, but abandoning the original vision for west Vancouver can only hurt us.
At the first annual meeting, Sunrise clearly stated the ownership goal from the fall 2007 business plan: 600 owners by the end of 2008 for 1000 owners to open by the end of 2009. With only 164 owners as of July 30, this goal will clearly not be met. Given that the previous plan has been abandoned, what does the current board offer in its place and what? With a special meeting on the business plan for August 27, what can this board realistically deliver?
The current board is not dedicated to the original vision and has no discernible hope of fulfilling it. It is time for them to be honest and move on.
I respectfully assert that they cannot deliver what was promised, and it is time for them to rename this the Clark County Food Co-Op and leave west Vancouver to those who can do things. Their muddled purpose and mixed signals are hurting their store, west Vancouver and the wider cooperative movement. If they do not have a workable plan for west Vancouver, they should politely leave the field.
For more information please visit http://VFCBizPlan.com or discuss it below or at http://groups.google.com/group/vfc-gene