One-hundred years is a pretty long time.
But the Co-op passed that milestone running strong, capping off their centennial year with “probably the most aggressive expansionary efforts in (their) history,” said CEO of Lloydminster and District Co-op, Don Stephenson.
They opened two Cardlocks (with a third on the way in 2015), a gas bar and a carwash, as part of what Stephenson calls a fundamental strategic plan to expand their petroleum offerings. With the Cardlocks, they wanted to offer a few more product options than before, too; motorists can now fill up on diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), as well as regular gasoline, clear and dyed diesel.
“I think it was a real feather in our cap to get to 100 years, because certainly, we’re not seeing many organizations achieve that milestone,” said Stephenson. “More importantly for us, it was kind of a start-off for continued expansion and growth and rejuvenation. And we’ll set another record this year in terms of our sales revenue and with these new projects as they come fully into productivity.”
It’s all thanks to the members of Co-op, who expressed their desire for expanded Cardlock facilities through a huge increase in member purchases and support. Pair that with a dramatic increase in new memberships and it was clear to Stephenson that demand for Co-op’s services were far from stagnant – they were growing, and fast, especially in the last year.
“It just all happened to fall over one year and it made for a busy 100th anniversary for us,” said Stephenson.
But the Co-op wasn’t always a booming service. When Stephenson arrived in ‘97, confidence levels were a lot lower than they are now. They weren’t even certain if they’d make their ‘85 anniversary. So they aimed to change the way they do things and embed Co-op as a more relevant, consumerbased business than ever before. Fast-forward to this year, and they’ve been listed as 49th on Saskatchewan’s Top 100 Businesses.
“To get to that position and to rebuild the organization and know the work and effort that went into that, it’s incumbent on us to continue to grow and continue to be relevant in the eyes of our membership,” said Stephenson.
Back then, Co-op used the Marketplace (which also saw renovation and expansion this year) as a launching pad to jump further into the petroleum sector. From there, they reevaluated what it meant to provide a service to their membership.
“It’s funny, we got away from the idea in the retail sector that we didn’t have to service the customer. We stopped bagging groceries, we stopped pumping gas,” said Stephenson, of darker times at the Co-op. “And what we really did is we kind of turned back the hands of time and said, ‘you know what? That’s important.’ And when I look at our gas bar operations and the success that we’ve achieved, that full-serve option at self-serve prices is really nice. It’s really nice for the young mom with the kids and even nice for the old guys like me.”
Now, with a membership of 16,000, 70 per cent of whom are consistent, local members and not just passing through, the Co-op has become much more than a local business.
“We are tight in that it’s become much more like a family that we’ve built,” said Stephenson. “The staff members and I think the membership as well. We’ve very much got an open-door policy, we welcome feedback and more importantly, I think we try and act on that feedback that we receive, too. Again, to be consistent in providing the utmost in customer service to our membership on an ongoing basis.”
To cap off a successful 100th year, the Co-op hosted a sold-out dinner featuring a performance by Gordon Lightfoot. With seniors, young families, local businesses and members and staff of Co-op all in attendance, Stephenson said that it really illustrated the full demographic within the community. It was a special evening for him. But now, working into their 101st year, Stephenson looks to the future with more confidence than ever before.
“We’re looking forward to our bicentennial celebration, although I will promise you, I won’t be around for that long,” Stephenson said, with a laugh. “We are trying to build with the idea of continuing to make the organization relevant to our membership and to our customer base going forward.”