NISKAYUNA – Shannon Risley, a Capital Region native and Altamont resident, will take over on Wednesday as the general manager of the 77-year old Niskayuna Co-op.
She comes to the position with two decades of retail and grocery experience, most recently as the store manager of Walmart. Risley will be taking over from Dennis Hanley, who joined the Co-op in November 2019 as the interim general manager.
“We’re thrilled to have someone of Shannon’s caliber joining us at this time because in this COVID era, grocery stores have been very busy and we weren’t sure how difficult it would be to find a permanent GM,” said Sarah Bilofsky, the co-president of the Co-op’s board of directors.
The co-op, located on Nott Street, started the search in January.
“I think what really impressed us was her recognition that the store is special; that it’s more than a store, it is a really important part of the community.”
From the start, community and customer service are what attracted Risley to retail.
Growing up in Saugerties, she worked at Walmart and continued to do so when she went on to attend The College of Saint Rose. While she studied education, she realized she found retail management more fulfilling.
“Every day you’re teaching, training and developing your employees to best [serve] the customer,” Risley said. “To me, the greatest reward is seeing people that you’ve taken the time to invest in and see them come up through the ranks and do great things with customers and become promoted and take different roles. It’s impacted their lives not only through the customer service aspect but through their personal growth.”
During her time with the company, she was selected for the Walmart Leadership Academy in 2014. Only 80 people out of 800,000 potential employees were picked for the program, which took place at the Walmart headquarters in Arkansas and brought together the company’s top leaders and experts from other national companies.
“That was an amazing experience … I really took that opportunity as an honor and a privilege to be selected,” Risley said.
After completing that program, she became the store manager at the Walmart in Clifton Park. While there, Risley launched one of the company’s first local online grocery sales and store pickup programs, oversaw multiple store renovations while maintaining profitability, and chaired an annual golf tournament to benefit the Bernard & Millie Duker Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center.
When she heard about the open general manager position at the Niskayuna Co-op, she was intrigued because of the store’s sense of community.
“From the first time that I went into the co-op, I could tell [that] it was a true hometown grocery store. You could tell that the community was very tight-knit, that the employees knew the customers and the members and just by seeing that I knew that this was a place I wanted to be,” Risley said.
The co-op is a different scale from what she’s used to, with around 60 employees, but it allows her to be more flexible to the needs of the community, according to Risley.
“Being able to get in local products much easier and what the community is asking for I think is something that makes that store so unique and that’s very appealing, she said. “That not only gives me the autonomy but also I think it’s great to see the hourly managers have that autonomy and truly being able to run their business.”
She’s taking over at an unprecedented time, when grocery stores have seen more traffic and have had to swiftly implement new safety measures, from installing plexiglass at cash registers to rearranging the store’s layout to help with social distancing.
“I think Dennis Hanley has done a tremendous job helping reposition the store,” Bilofsky said, “People in the community already trust the co-op and they turned to us to be their source of grocery shopping.”
When Risley steps into the position on Wednesday, she’ll already have a framework for the safety procedures and will be working alongside Hanley for a few weeks to make the transition smoother.
“The Niskayuna Co-op is a pillar of the community and it is the dedication of the members and employees that makes it truly one-of-a-kind,” Risley said. “I’m committed to building on what Dennis and the team have achieved to continue creating a best-in-class customer experience. I look forward to meeting our members and being a part of this special store and community.”