Willy Street Co-op returns to profitability while preparing to open ‘Willy North’

Willy Street Co-op returns to profitability while preparing to open ‘Willy North’
Courtesy MadisonCommons.org

Willy Street Co-op ended 2016 with a $312,440 surplus, which turned around its profitability and covered a nearly $1 million spread from the 2015 fiscal year’s losses, the annual report said.

The Co-op’s 2016 fiscal year, which ran from June 29, 2015 to July 3, 2016, focused on three financial priorities: returning to profitability after a year of poor performance, preparing for the impact of increased competition near the Willy East location and preparing to open Willy North.

According to the report, the $312,440 surplus resulted from high sales due to a reset of products at the Willy East location and a weaker-than-anticipated impact on sales from competition.

Since the Willy Street Co-op opened its first location in 1973, it has been dedicated to providing south-central Wisconsin with fairly priced goods and services, while also supporting local and organic suppliers.

Anya Firszt, general manager of the Co-op since 1996, said providing quality customer service and local products greatly contributed to the 2016 fiscal year’s successes and will continue to be at the forefront in the current 2017 fiscal year with the recent opening of Willy North.

“We try to focus on customer service and addressing customer product needs in a different fashion than the average grocery store. At North, we’re already getting a better handle on what products sell best and what aren’t, what people are looking for and how we can change up the product mix to better address the needs of the shoppers first,” Firszt said.

The Willy North location, 2817 N. Sherman Ave., opened six weeks after the 2016 report. Firszt said Willy North has had strong sales, while Willy East and Willy West sales have been slightly lower. The decrease is likely the result of these customers relocating their shopping to the north location.

“We’re already halfway through the 2017 fiscal year and it’s off to a great start. What it means to operate three retails is our biggest challenge, but we have a strong store management team who are working closely with retail teams and support departments to move initiatives forward and meet our needs while also managing expenses,” Firszt said.

While Firszt said the 2017 fiscal year is headed in a positive direction, the co-op still faces the challenge of capturing sales dollars with increased competition. Firszt said owners play a large role in the success of the co-op and their support is needed.

The annual report shows that more than 1,178 new owners joined the co-op in 2016 and the total number of owners has grown to more than 33,000 people. To become an owner, customers make an equity investment in the co-op. Aside from discount benefits, owners gain the ability to vote in elections on how stores are run and possible initiatives such as whether or not to open a new store. They can also run for a seat on the board of directors or offer to serve on a committee.

“In some ways, the report speaks for itself. We’re proud to continue to grow sales, promote a neighborhood that might otherwise be underserved with our new location and continue to grow ownership. It feels good,” Firszt said.