Monday 26 March 2012

Co-op profitability has a cost

For many years the Co-op was run as a ‘breakeven’ organisation in strict application of its shared-profits culture.
As anyone in mainstream business will appreciate, in order to result in breakeven, it is wiser to aim at say 5% net profit, and the result will probably be 0% or perhaps even 0.5% profit.

Reality of 'breaking even'
Aiming for breakeven in business can be a way of ensuring a loss-making year…
This breakeven approach and its consequential loss-making caused the failure of individual societies, resulting in them being absorbed into healthier parts of the movement. However, the Co-op still remained a confusing and inefficient trade partner for leading–edge suppliers, resulting in minimal levels of support, with most discretionary funds going to major customers that ran their businesses in a more traditional manner.
The penny drops…
Several years ago the Co-op apparently began to embrace the idea of making a profit, and even began to refer to ROCE and other KPIs in their annual reports.
All very encouraging for suppliers as the Co-op began to produce acceptable returns, encouraging increased investment of trade funding as a way of producing a viable alternative to the Big Four.
Testing the change in philosophy
The real test of this change in philosophy required the global financial crisis (a challenge to capitalism everywhere) to cause the Co-op to embrace the other side of the coin, cost-cutting and redundancies.
Latest reports indicate that the Co-op Group is preparing to further slash its food division’s workforce, as it seeks to cut costs amid tough trading at its grocery operation The job cuts in the food property team are part of its Unity Programme. This is the Co-op’s project to deliver a more co-ordinated strategy and efficiencies across over 4,800 retail trading outlets, including pharmacy, banking and funeral care.
The need for persistence
Despite the social cost, the Co-op needs to continue with this strategy, not only to maintain its profitability, but to demonstrate to its trading partners its determination to justify a level of partnership that compares with that currently given to the Big Four.
Above all, realistic suppliers need to support and cooperate with the Co-op, in this, the completion of their transition to ‘mainstream’ retailing…

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