At Wedge Community Co-op, a large percentage of its shoppers are not only customers, but also the store’s owners, CEO Josh Resnik says. “Seventy-eight percent of our sales are to people who are members of the co-op,” he says.
This has motivated the store’s employees to make sure they are providing its customers with top service. “They really help guide you through the shopping process,” Resnik continues.
“Our staff is there to educate and make it a better experience,” he states. “I was a customer long before I worked here, and the quality of the customer service always stood out.”
Located in Minneapolis, The Wedge Co-op operates a 10,800-square-foot store that Resnik describes as a hybrid of “a regular grocery store and a farmer’s market.” The store’s history goes back to 1974 when it started in the basement of an apartment building.
That year, a group of neighbors organized a cooperative store to provide themselves with whole and natural foods. In 1992, the store moved to its current building located within the city’s Lyndale neighborhood.
After all these years, The Wedge Co-op has established itself as a dependable source of organic and sustainable food for its customers, Resnik says. “Consumers really trust the products that are here,” he says.
“We’ve got pretty stringent buying standards,” he says, noting that the store takes pride in its meat and produce departments. “I put the quality of our food up against any other store. If you taste ours, it is noticeably better.”
Wedge Community’s focus on customer service is critical because consumers today are much more knowledgeable about food sources, Resnik says. “They are much more focused on buying things locally,” he says.
However, “People aren’t as clear on what is truly better for them,” Resnik admits. “Certain products by the letter of the law may be organic, [but] they’re not all following the same practices.”
Wedge Community distinguishes itself by providing its customers with such expertise, Resnik says. “There are tons of very, very knowledgeable people working in the store,” he says.
Wedge Community enjoys strong sales, but the store has not undergone any remodeling since 1997, Resnik says. “There’s a lot in the store that feels kind of dated,” he admits.
Soon, Wedge Community will invest in a remodeling program that will allow it to add additional services and products. For instance, “We would like to offer sustainable sliced deli meats,” he says.
The remodel is scheduled to begin in early 2014 and should be completed in the next 15 months. The store expects to get some extra retail square footage by moving its bakehouse and some of its kitchen offsite.
The store also will likely add a hot food bar, a salad bar and a seating area. “That’s what customers are asking for,” Resnik says, noting that the seating will help make it more of a community gathering spot. “We’re a place that’s very much rooted in the community, but we don’t have any meeting space.”
Resnik has been with Wedge Community for nine months. “My role is to help lead and inspire teams and set the strategic direction,” he says.
He describes himself as a “facilitator” at the store who seeks out the opinions of others. When hiring, he likes to find people who think freely and are not afraid to share their opinion with him.
“I want someone who’s not just taking orders,” he says, noting that the store also embraces the individuality of its workers. “We really cherish that; here you find a lot of employees with all kinds of piercings and tattoos. That’s just part of who we really are.”
Additionally, “It’s not a place where we all have matching uniforms,” he continues. “It’s fairly informal, [and we have an] authentic way of interacting with our customers.”
They also have longevity, Resnik says. “Our employees have a ton of tenure and have worked here for a long time,” he says. “I know a lot of people who have double-digit years of experience.” He explains that employees are loyal because of generous benefits, a strong belief in the company’s mission and a friendly working environment.
Beyond its remodeling, Wedge Community has even more plans for growth, Resnik says. The Wedge Co-op has not actively marketed itself in the past – insisting that the store is already quite crowded. However, Resnik, who has a marketing background, says, “In an increasingly competitive market place, it [is] essential for us to be more proactive in telling our story and reaching out to new customers. We have hired a brilliant local branding firm called Fellow, and are working on updating our image.”
In addition, the store will move its bakery and kitchens to a new location, which will open up more retail space. That will allow Wedge Co-op “to serve the customers better,” Resnik asserts.
He adds that Wedge Co-op also is planning to develop a second store. “Our members are asking us to open [one],” Resnik says, noting that Wedge Co-op is hoping to open a second store within the next two to three years – pending that it finds the right location.
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