Delmas Co-operative Association
In Masset, on the north shore, and Skidegate on the south shore of the islands of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Delmas Co-operative Association is the westernmost cooperative in Canada. With a population of less than 5,000, Haida Gwaii is a remote region that’s not home to many of the conveniences of the mainland, but for nearly 70 years, Delmas Co-op has served as a one-stop shop for a range of items islanders need to get by.
Today, Delmas has more than 2,100 active members and 58 employees across three stores from the north to the south shore of the island. “With less than 5,000 year-round residents on Haida Gwaii, we’re too small to attract the big-box stores, but we do have some larger competition,” says Richard Clarmont, general manager of Delmas. “Despite some competition and the constant battle with expensive freight to ship in the items we need, the cooperative has seen some record years.”
Clarmont says in 2014, sales were up more than $1 million over the year before, without a major influx in population. “This year, we’re midway through and we already are up more than $600,000 in sales,” he adds.
Returning savings to members
While the cooperative is open to nonmembers, especially in the busy summer tourist season on the island, Clarmont says Delmas’ main objective is to serve its 2,100 loyal members and return savings to them. “Depending on how the business does every year, we produce savings and the board of directors reviews our annual financial statements to payback to all members,” explains Clarmont. “After a record year in 2014 we’re able to return 3 percent back to our members this year.”
This percentage may not sound like much but in total it’s equivalent to more than $340,000. “We’re handing out member equity checks, anywhere from $400 to $1,000 each – this means cash going in our members pockets,” says Clarmont.
Delmas distributes the cheques on member equity day, where the cooperative hosts a big barbecue celebration. “Board members pass out cheques at the south end store and the following day, we do the same at the north end store,” says Clarmont.
Since Delmas’ first year in business in 1945, the goal of the organization has been to support and serve islanders. Delmas first opened its doors on the north shore of Haida Gwaii in February 1945 and the first store manager was Mr. George Hooey.
The following years saw a series of leased facilities and the first ground-up store in 1958, which was destroyed by a fire. Over the years, Delmas has rebuilt, expanded and relocated many times. “In 1992, we expanded to the south end of the island, moving into a native-owned local building,” recounts Clarmont. “This store has seen so much business that we now need more space.”
With sales up, expanding the South Island store is the next step for Delmas. This store is one of the cooperatives’ two food and grocery stores. “Our new food store – constructed in 2007 – was a $4.5 million building and we’ve been successful enough that we’re on track to pay it off two years ahead of schedule. Our focus has always been on getting out of debt and paying back dividends to our members.”
As far as food and groceries go, Delmas offers a wide selection at both stores. Fresh produce, bakery items, deli, meat and a range of pantry staples – all are part of the cooperative’s offering. “Adjacent to our larger food store in Masset is a home and building supplies store,” notes Clarmont. “For being in such an isolated area, many people think we’d have a limited selection, but that’s not the case. We have quite a broad range of items, even some specialty goods.”
“We offer everything except petroleum – building supplies, hardware, groceries – we really do it all,” continues Clarmont. “We offer a full service deli and bakery and this is very well received by the community. I think it’s one reason we’re so successful. In fact, I think people who aren’t familiar with our operations, when they come out here; they’re pleasantly surprised by the selection.”
Clarmont says the biggest challenge for Delmas in maintaining its selection of both fresh and nonperishable items is combating shipping costs and freight. “Haida Gwaii is only serviced by the B.C. Ferry and the rates for freight can be extremely high,” he says. “We put a three year tender out to all freight companies or anyone in B.C. that expresses interest to negotiate a contract, because for the freight provider it’s a very lucrative contract due to the volume we do. We have two 53-foot food trailers for perishables and general merchandise that arrive weekly.”
Clarmont, who’s been with Delmas since 1998 and held his role as general manager since 2003, says business is going strong and great things are in store for the cooperative. “Sales are on the up and we’re already well on our way to another record year,” he says.
With business booming, Clarmont says Delmas is always looking to attract new members. “We’re open for nonmembers to shop here as well, but our goal is to make them members; to show them the cooperative model really works,” he says.
This cooperative model works particularly well for the islanders of Haida Gwaii and after 70 years Delmas Co-operative Association continues to support and serve them as a one-stop shop.