Swan Valley Consumers Cooperative Ltd.
In Manitoba, the Swan Valley Consumer Cooperative Ltd. is celebrating 75 successful years in business, offering the products and services that help build, feed and fuel individuals and rural communities. The 7,000-member-strong cooperative covers the entire Swan River Valley in Manitoba. Swan Valley Co-op operates four core divisions: an Agro Centre, bulk petroleum plant, a food and fashions store and a gas bar, cardlock, convenience store and car wash — all of which are essential to supporting and sustaining the local economy.
“Our organization was founded in 1940,” says Don Declercq, general manager of Swan Valley Co-op. “We’re proud to celebrate our 75-year anniversary in 2015. Today we have 130 employees and we serve a fairly large geographic area within the valley.”
Building on 75 years
The member-owned organization first formed in April 1940. The first store opened on Main Street in Swan River, selling petroleum products and feed. The first year’s sales were just $40,000, but the Swan Valley Co-op swiftly expanded, doubling sales to more than $80,000 the following year and to more than $80 million today.
The subsequent decade brought more expansion, with branch stores opening in Durban, Bowsman and Benito. In 1948, the Swan River store was subject to a devastating fire that completely destroyed the facility. But Swan Valley Co-op’s members picked up the pieces and a new store was rebuilt and opened in 1949.
By the mid-1960s Swan Valley Co-op’s shopping center sold food, hardware, dry goods, furniture, appliances and lumber, and the organization ran a service station and petroleum and farm supply department in Swan River. In the early 2000s, Swan Valley Co-op decided to build a new 50,000-square-foot food and fashions store, replacing the existing shopping center. “Our food and fashions store is one of the largest in Manitoba,” says Declercq.
In 2006, a new cardlock facility was constructed on Highway 10 North. In 2010, construction began on the new gas bar, convenience store and car wash facility, adjacent to the cardlock site.
While some branch locations have closed and some facets of the business no longer remain, Swan Valley Co-op has maintained a tradition of service and support in the Swan River Valley. “We’ve rebuilt, upgraded or refreshed all facets of the business over the last decade,” says Declercq. “Reinvesting in upgrades and repairs helps us better serve our members and the community.”
Improvements have been made to the cooperative’s Agro Centre, which serves area producers with fertilizer and crop-protection products. “Our car wash, gas bar and c-store site is only about 5 years old,” says Declercq.
Currently, the greatest undertaking at Swan Valley Co-op is replacing the 25-year-old petroleum bulk plant on Elm Street. “In September 2015, the new storage tanks will be installed and the facility is quickly taking shape,” details Declercq. “This facility is owned by Federated Co-operatives Limited on land leased from us.”
Construction is expected to wrap in April 2016 and the current bulk plant on Elm Street will be decommissioned and dismantled. “The new bulk plant doubles the storage capacity that Swan Valley Co-op currently has access to,” adds Declercq.
Paying it forward
Not only does Swan Valley Co-op dedicate a substantial portion of its resources in reinvestment, the cooperative also allocates approximately $3 million to $4 million a year to its members’ equity. “We then pay a portion of this equity back to our members in cash,” explains Declercq. “Every year most of the savings we generate goes back to our members.”
Another chunk of change — more than 1 percent of annual sales — is reinvested in the Swan River Valley community. “We participate in and support almost any charitable cause in the valley,” says Declercq. “Hardly a day goes by where someone with a community group or fundraising program doesn’t reach out and ask us for a hand somehow. We almost always participate.”
“We’re heavily involved with the Bowsman Lion’s Club Bull-A-Rama event and with the Swan Valley Stampeders Junior Hockey league,” adds Declercq. The cooperative also actively supports local 4-H clubs and helps to raise funds and awareness for important ventures such as the Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Red Cross.
Swan Valley Co-op even has a community service booth situated in its food store. “We open the booth to any school or community organization looking to spread the word about their fundraising efforts by taking advantage of our customer traffic in the food store,” says Declercq.
“We take great pride in being able to give back to our communities,” continues Declercq. “We owe our success to our members and customers, who keep us in business.”
Declercq says with the right community connections, the right team in place and the resources to keep it all moving, Swan Valley Co-op is in great standing. “We have many longstanding employees — some who have been with us for more than 35 years,” he says. “All of our facilities are updated and in good shape so we’re poised for the future. We’ve chosen our path and I don’t see any major new entities, but we always have our ear to the ground.”
Through constant reinvestment — both internally and externally — Swan Valley Consumers Cooperative Ltd. looks forward to a bright future after 75 years.