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Boundary Consumers Cooperative Ltd.: Offering Food, Fuel and Many More Benefits
Boundary Consumers Cooperative Ltd. (Boundary Coop) is a growing community cooperative with its headquarters in Boissevain, Manitoba. Greg Gill, general manager of Boundary Coop, has been leading the cooperative since formed in 2009. “Three different cooperatives combined to become the Boundary Coop,” Gill explains. “We have seven locations in four local communities. There are two larger food stores, one smaller food store, a home and agriculture center, an additional home center, two gas bars and a small hardware location connected to one of our card locks.”
Boundary Coop has established a name for itself in the region over the years. “We are fairly major retailers in the communities we serve in southwest Manitoba,” Gill continues. “We focus on customer service and relationships. We try to give back what we can to the community by donating merchandise, corporate gifts and four $1,000 bursaries for local high schools.” The cooperative also offers major incentives for members. “We’re not doing anything special,” Gill explains. “Our focus is on customers and our members. What we do, we do well.”
Membership at Boundary Coop offers numerous benefits; it only costs $10 to join, and members immediately begin to see financial returns on the investment. New members immediately rack up 10 shares in the cooperative and are assigned a member number. Whenever a member makes a purchase, the retail amount is recorded. At the end of a year, the board assesses the net savings of retail and allocates a percentage of the total purchases to member equity. Eventually, members qualify for cash repayment, at the discretion of the board. Members over the age of 70 or members who move outside of the cooperative’s service area can withdraw equity.
Membership and the included shareholder status also give customers a say in how the cooperative operates, as members elect the board of directors and vote on bylaws. Becoming a member is an easy process, but the cooperative is also open to nonmembers. While nonmembers enjoy savings, services and programs, they do miss out on an investment opportunity, as well as a voice in the cooperative’s operations.
A Growing Operation
One of the biggest challenges has been the amalgamation of three separate cooperatives into one. Fortunately, Gill and his team were well-prepared and shared experience in operating and marketing cooperatives before the businesses joined. “The most recent merger was Jan. 29, 2012, between Hartley and Boundary Cooperatives,” he notes. “I’ve been in this business for 21 years, and started working Boundary Coop at an entry level position with Eastalta Coop in Vermilion, Alberta.”
Over the years, the cooperative has established longstanding relationships with vendors that offer reliability and consistent pricing. “Federated Cooperative is a primary wholesaler for us,” says Gill. “With a lot of building materials, we buy direct from lumber mills and suppliers. Aside from that, we run the operation in-house. We look after our own bookkeeping and accounting on-site.”
An economic boom in the region has made for an influx of business for Boundary Coop. “We are blessed with an influx of business due to the oil drilling activity going on now,” Gill explains. The growing margins are allowing Boundary Coop to expand vertically and horizontally, adding new services and broadening the business’ geographic footprint.
“We have a new location in Waskada, Manitoba, with a 24-hour card lock for fuel and a small hardware store,” says Gill. “We are building special housing in the communities we are in to make sure there is adequate housing. Along the same lines, we have added an installations and renovations department for smaller jobs like cupboards, windows and doors.”
As the cooperative grows, Boundary Coop has several new services, incentives and projects underway. “We’re in the process of building a new food store in Boissevain,” Gill explains. “Federated Cooperatives Limited launched a new program in western Canada called Fuel Up To Win with our gas bars and food stores. When customers make a purchase, they collect game tickets for prizes. That started in the beginning of March and will go on for 12 weeks.”
Despite the team’s success, Boundary Coop still faces some pretty tough competition. “We’re surrounded by other retail cooperatives,” he notes. “We are looking for future opportunities for amalgamation in the area with some of our competitors. Other than that, the plan is to just keep doing what we do best.”
While nothing is set in stone, Gill imagines there will be some form of celebration. “We haven’t finalized anything,” he says, noting the best way to celebrate is to continue offering top cooperative service and giving back to the community. In 2012 the cooperative contributed over $50,000 to local charities, nonprofits and community-led events. Boundary Consumers Cooperative Ltd. is focused on relationships, and looks forward to growing opportunities to spread the local wealth through memberships and charitable contributions.