St. Paul and District Co-op Ltd.
As most cooperatives are formed, St. Paul and District Co-op Ltd. (St. Paul Co-op), was born when a group of St. Paul, Alberta, citizens decided to pool their buying power for the greater good. But unlike most, St. Paul Co-op now has the size, strength and diversification of a large, full-service cooperative with a small-town focus.
With 10,000 active member-owners, some 250 employees and dual locations, St. Paul Co-op is a fixture in the community. “We’ve been serving the St. Paul and Elk Point areas for more than 80 years,” says Graham Getz, general manager of St. Paul Co-op. “The original was established in May 1932, but now we’re a complex cooperative with annual sales of $100 million across our food stores, pharmacy, home and agro-equipment; all in an 80,000-square-foot mall, a liquor store, gas bar, CardLock and bulk fuel storage and delivery.”
But Getz says St. Paul Co-op is much more than products and services. “That’s only half the story,” he shares. “We’re part of the foundation of this community and we have a very loyal following with all of our members. We’re a true leader in the community and we have strong philanthropic dedication.”
Getz says that’s what makes the cooperative business model special: community-driven service. “We are a different kind of business; being member-owned means any profits are returned to our members and owners stay in the local economy,” he compares. “We live where our customers live; work where they work and help grow the economy right here. We are neighbours and we make sustainable investments in the communities we share.”
With 250 employees across St. Paul and Elk Point, the cooperative is one of the largest retail employers in the region. “St. Paul is a small community of about 6,000 people, but our trading area covers approximately 35,000 people,” details Getz.
Having such an influence translates to being locally invested, community minded and committed to delivering lifetime membership benefits and fueling the regional economy. “Although we have ownership in Federated Cooperatives Limited [FCL], a 225-cooperative strong organization, St. Paul is 100 percent local; all members are owners,” explains Getz. “Every year, depending on our success, a portion of it is returned back to our members and owners.” That’s money that goes in the pockets of local people and stays in the community.
St. Paul is also marketing and promoting area growers following FCL’s Localize program. “This program allows people who come in to shop to search items by QR code on their smartphone and know exactly where the products they’re buying were grown and raised,” tells Getz. “FCL is rolling out localized programs in all fresh departments, with raised at home, grown at home and manufactured at home slogans to promote local products.”
Furthermore, Getz says St. Paul Co-op has strong ties to local farmers who regularly supply Alberta-grown potatoes and carrots for the cooperative. Aside from the freshest produce departments, St. Paul Co-op runs full-service delis, meat, bakery departments stock store brands, such as Co-op Gold, Co-op Market Town and Co-op Centsibles.
“In 2012, we added a liquor store, which is our newest addition,” adds Getz. “And now at our gas bar customers can find top tier gas, which a lot of automobile manufacturers are now demanding for certain vehicles.”
Enhancing social responsibility
While supporting members with a wide range of products and services is the heart and soul of the cooperative’s mission, Getz says it’s only half the story. “As a cooperative you have to report annual financials,” he explains. “In 2013, we decided to also create an annual social responsibility report to demonstrate and tell about our commitment to our communities.”
The report entails all aspects of St. Paul Co-op’s community investment, meeting environmental sustainability, employee engagement and cooperative leadership. Striving to meet higher sustainability standards, St. Paul Co-op has nearly completed renovations to the Elk Point Food Store.
“We have installed glass door refrigeration cases in place of our traditional, open multi-deck cases in the dairy section which provides an 80 percent reduction in energy consumption,” tells Getz. “LED lighting used in refrigeration display cases reduces energy usage by 50 percent and generates less heat compared to conventional fluorescent lighting.”
Elk Point is also finding creative ways to reuse material generated by the cooperative. “They used long steel railing, which was no longer needed, to make a barricade at the shipping and receiving area to stop trucks from hitting the building at the cooperative,” he details. “At the CardLock and gas bar we also now recycle all the windshield wash jugs, DEF jugs, as well as all oil containers. This is recycled to make plastic fence posts as well as deck material. This year we have recycled about 5,000-four-litre jugs.”
Community action on the go
Not only is St. Paul Co-op leading in environmental stewardship, Getz says his team has come together to find creative ways to better serve the community. “Haying in the 30s is one of the largest local fundraising events in our community,” he describes. “It reaches the hearts of families and their loved ones that are fighting cancer. At this event St. Paul Co-op donates for this worthwhile cause.
St. Paul Co-op is also going mobile, bringing community action wherever the need is with its Co-op Community Connector Trailer, essentially a full kitchen on wheels. “The cooperative food trailer is a full-fledged kitchen on wheels complete with an oven, grill and even a popcorn maker,” shares Getz. “We have partnered with the County of St. Paul No. 19 FCSS to donate it to any nonprofit or charitable organization that needs a mobile kitchen for a fundraiser. It also has a pop-up outdoor movie theater screen. We’ve donated the trailer for all kinds of events since we unveiled it in July 2014, everything from Haying in the 30s to the opening of a new town fire hall.”
The cooperative also has the ability to mobilize the trailer to send volunteers to disaster relief areas. “We’re also a big ambassador of the local 4-H program with sponsoring fundraising BBQ’s and purchasing steers annually,” Getz says.
He goes on to note that everyone involved at St. Paul Co-op is extremely proud of what the organization stands for in the community. “Our involvement is directly related to our success,” he measures.
With the size, strength and diversity of a large organization, St. Paul and District Co-op is paying it forward and funneling its success into a connected community and vibrant local economy.