Ever'man Enjoys Expanded Enterprise

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In early April of 2014, Ever’man Natural Foods Co-op, Inc. (Ever’man) proudly opened the doors on its newly expanded store in downtown Pensacola, Florida.  The store debuted a renovation that added 5,500 square feet and increased the store’s retail area by 33%.  The expansion doubled the dairy and produce areas and increased the bulk section.  Other additions include fresh sandwich and smoothie stations, full-service meat and seafood departments, hot-food and salad bars, and a larger seating area for in-store diners.  

The co-op also decided on a rebrand. Ever’man Cooperative Grocery & Cafe – the co-op’s newly branded full name – has been serving the Pensacola area since 1973 and has lived through several moves and one prior expansion at the current location.  A market study done in February of 2010 helped the general manager and board of directors decide to set on the path to store expansion.  Meetings began in October 2010 with the NCGA Development Cooperative (DC), and the board approved the DC contract in April 2011, three years prior to the opening of the expanded Ever’man campus.

Green design features

To ensure success, the general manager and the board began planning, planning, and more planning, addressing the many considerations in undertaking a store expansion.  Along with the obvious need for more retail space and up-to-date refrigeration systems, General Manager William Rolfs and the board focused on making decisions that would add eco-friendly upgrades.  Rolfs said the $4.6 million in renovations were designed with reducing Ever’man’s carbon footprint in mind. 

“We aspire to be a model of sustainable business in the Pensacola area,” he said.  “With that in mind, one of our main goals when we expanded was to make environmentally-friendly choices throughout the project.” All building materials chosen were sourced as closely as possible.  New LED lights are supplemented by seven skylights covering more than 100 square feet of ceiling.  Hot water is provided by a solar heater and a heat recovery tank, which captures heat from the refrigeration system. A computer-controlled refrigeration system, extra insulation, and a highly efficient air-conditioning and heating system were also installed. 

Special attention was also given to the landscaping plans. The entire property was landscaped using native plants and fruit trees, including oranges, limes, figs, peaches, nectarines, thornless blackberries, and loquats. Semi-permeable pavers were used in part of the parking area for added water percolation, and a new deep well was added for irrigation. A cardboard baler was added to help in our recycling efforts, and an all-new white roof was installed to reflect the hot Florida sun.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony in April, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward spoke about how Ever’man is offering a service for the community by providing shoppers with such quality and varied organic and natural food options.  He said that Ever’man Cooperative Grocer & Cafe is now “competing with the big boys” and is “really an incredible grocery store delivering a turnkey solution for people downtown.”

Ever’man is the only grocery store serving the downtown Pensacola area.  Since its expansion, with the larger deli and the new food bars, the store has seen quite an increase in local business people and residents coming in for lunch and/or to grab dinner to go.  General Manager Rolfs shares in the excitement over the new deli.  He says, “Our deli is just huge – five or six times the size of what we had!”

 

A completely new look

The total project cost came in around $4.6 million; this included professional services, labor, the purchase of new equipment, and property costs. The store itself was expanded from under 12,000 to over 17,000 sq. ft.  Capitalization came from $1.6 million in cash and $2.7 million in new bank debt.  Other costs incurred came from well-timed real estate purchases that were made leading up to and during the expansion planning. These acquisitions included a building that connects to the store space, which became the store administrative offices and adds 3,275 square feet.  Another building on the corner of the block was purchased and completely renovated to create a new, 2,000-square-foot educational center with a teaching kitchen space. 

Additionally, there was a focus on creating a multi-use green space along the front of the property where the parking lot was formerly located.  This space has now been used for the annual membership meeting, local farmers market events, and live music. To communicate the changes, a new advertising campaign, along with a video history of the grocer, were created in conjunction with the expansion.

Groundbreaking for the expansion project took place in January of 2013.  The plan was laid out so that the construction would happen in stages, and the store would not have to close for any point during approximately twelve months of work.  This created many challenges for shoppers and employees alike, including several weeks without adequate parking.  During this part of construction, Ever’man did take a 10 percent hit in sales. Co-op staff addressed this temporary squeeze with increased customer service and by encouraging employees to help customers with loading and unloading of their cars.

Fifteen months after groundbreaking, the new co-op had tripled the parking spaces and was ready for its grand opening. Since then, sales that were projected to increase by 20% over the former store have actually grown by 35 percent!  

Leadership and communication are key

As former board president and now board secretary, I really feel connected to this project, like a parent to a child – most likely because I was pregnant when planning started, and when it was time for the groundbreaking, my daughter had been born and was even allowed to take part in it.  I am so proud to say I helped with this project, which has really changed Pensacola by offering a beautiful and up-to-date store. With the help of the DC, our store expansion has been a great success and has affected our community in so many positive ways.

Like the previous Ever’man Cooperative Grocery expansions, this project required leadership, foresight, careful planning, and courage to move the store’s tradition into the future.  The cooperative’s 40th anniversary coincided with the completion of the project, so it was especially timely to celebrate.  General Manager Rolfs says, “Ever’man Cooperative Grocery has truly grown with this community, and it is an honor to continue to serve the people in the future.” Rolfs thanks both managers and staff for being a great team that rose to any challenge and excelled.  He also thanks the board for its guidance during the planning phase.

With the store having been fully operational for more than six months, there has been time to reflect on the lessons learned.  Communication at all levels is key, and communicating to members could have started earlier, without feeling hurried.  It is easier to incorporate ideas as the design is being created, rather than later. Most important, the board/general manager relationship has grown much stronger during this expansion.

Working closely with CDS Consulting Co-op member Thane Joyal, Ever’man was able to manage expansion project while also working on board training.  Thane Joyal has this to share:  “Ever’man Cooperative Grocery board has worked very hard to develop a strong working relationship with its general manager (GM), who came from the conventional grocery world into a board culture that was very much in transition at the time he was hired.  It was a steep learning curve for both parties! What I really admire about Ever’man Cooperative Grocery is that board members and the GM have consistently brought a human face to difficult issues.  During the same time the GM has worked to build a thriving enterprise, the board has worked hard to strengthen its governing skills and showed tremendous leadership in the face of owner concerns.”  

Board leaders have worked very hard to ensure integrity in the board perpetuation process, to communicate meaningfully with concerned owners, and to bring the value of cooperation forward in a visible way.   The results speak for themselves. The store is thriving, owners are happy and proud of the cooperative and the board has grown and stabilized. 

Ever’man is a good example of what a cooperative can accomplish when the board and GM are aligned and working together toward excellence. Currently, work is being conducted on a five-year business plan.  General Manager Rolfs notes, “This is a big deal, as we have always worked within a two-year horiozon.”  There is even discussion about a possible second store in the future.

  As Rolfs says, “Working together; we can accomplish amazing things.”

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