The Niskayuna Co-op saw a significant bottom-line increase for 2020 after a loss of over $57,000 in 2019. It also saw other financial gains– a trend the co-op is hoping will continue in 2021.
“Looking at 2020, it was a fantastic year for the co-op,” Treasurer Greg Mattice said during the co-op’s membership meeting Thursday evening. The co-op saw a 419% increase in its net income to over $180,000, while revenue went up 5%.
The news comes off the heels of the organization’s struggle in recent years through a succession of general managers, a handful of layoffs and a gradual loss of market share to online retail and the corporate giants that run much-larger markets in the area, four of them nearby Balltown Road, if you include Target.
But, while the co-op saw an overall increase, revenue fluctuated throughout the year. Co-President Beth Greenwood attributed the swing between last March and December to impacts to the supply chain during COVID.
“Like a lot of other retail organizations we found that our supply chain was starting to have some really wide swings during COVID,” Greenwood said after the meeting.
Last March, she said, they sold out of many items and the supply chain lagged when it came to meeting demand.
“That was kind of amplified across the year throughout 2020, where it was kind of like a slinky effect with the supply chain,” she said. “We’d get stuff, we’d sell a whole bunch and then we wouldn’t be able to get things into the store as quickly as we would’ve liked too.”
Manager Shannon Risley said they sold a lot of items like meat to families having their own small backyard cookouts and lots of baking items to people who got into bread-making during lockdown.
Those issues have eased up a lot, she said.
However, she said while it has eased up, manufacturers are only still making a certain quantity of items; it’s just that people aren’t buying them at the rate they were early during the pandemic.
Revenue growth for co-ops isn’t just limited to Niskayuna, though.
“Despite the challenges of the past year, our food co-ops reported an average revenue growth of 20% last year,” said Erbin Cowell, the executive director of Neighboring Food Co-op Association in an email Thursday afternoon. “Interest in food co-ops continues to grow along with interest in supporting local producers, ensuring access to healthy food, and building a more resilient and inclusive economy in the wake of the pandemic. Last year, more than 12,000 people joined our member co-ops.”
Greenwood said the co-op’s ability to quickly adapt to COVID regulations really helped ensure members felt safe to shop.
Curbside pickup also enabled shoppers who didn’t feel comfortable going inside the stores yet to get what they needed, she said.
The organization is now pushing to expand services to people by creating a delivery service. However, details on that service are still in the works.
“Because it’s small it’s a little bit tricky to do those things,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood said they’re optimistic they’ll continue to see membership and profit margins grow in 2021, even with the impending construction of Nott Street by the county.
Greenwood said the county has indicated it wants to begin making pedestrian safety improvements in the summer, with construction finishing in the fall. However, a specific timeline of the project was not available.
Greenwood said they wanted to take this year to invest in team-building skills, leadership skills and other non-construction improvements while the street is undergoing changes.
“We’re hoping to position ourselves so that the construction doesn’t interfere with what we’re doing, but of course like with anything else when you don’t know how long it’s going to take or how disruptive it might be we think it’s wise to focus on increasing our membership at the same time,” Greenwood said.
Mattice said the organization is already seeing growth this year. As of the end of February the organization had a net income of $60,000.
“Which is unheard of in the grocery industry,” he said. “Typically the first two months, January and February, are the worst two months for groceries and typically you do see losses or break evens. We are netting income, which is a fantastic thing for the store.”