Vanderhoof and Districts Co-operative Association
Cooperatives have a longstanding history of serving members in remote parts of western Canada. There’s a reason the cooperative model has stuck since the early 20th century: cooperatives work for the greater good, especially in areas where services and supplies are often few and far between. In Vanderhoof, under the Cooperative Act of British Columbia, Vanderhoof and Districts Co-operative Association (Vanderhoof Co-op) is one of these organizations and has supported the local community and individuals for more than 71 years.
Incorporated in August 1944, Vanderhoof Co-op originated as an agricultural organization, with an egg pooling depot, food and feed operation. The co-op grew into grain services with an on-site elevator. When the elevator burned down in the late ‘60s, the organization began to shift its model into more retail-driven services.
Today Vanderhoof Co-op operates a modern 70,400-square-foot shopping centre, gas bar and convenience store, four bulk petroleum locations, two propane locations and 16 petroleum delivery units and two lube units. The co-op also has a network of 15 cardlocks to serve its member’s needs. “We offer bulk petroleum delivery,” says Allan Bieganski, general manager of Vanderhoof Co-op. “We go the extra mile to service our customers, whether that’s going directly to farmers to fill farmers’ tanks or we’re going out to a logging site to fuel their equipment. 80 percent of our business is petroleum.”
Vanderhoof Co-op also operates a home centre. The company employs 150 area individuals and has more than 25,000 members in 10 communities in north central British Columbia, ranging from Terrace in the west, east to Valemount, north to Fort St. James and south to Quesnel.
United to keep pace with the big players
As an organization under the Co-operative Act of British Columbia, Vanderhoof Co-op is joined by 210 retail co-ops all under the same umbrella, under Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “We’re part of the Co-operative Retailing System (CRS) in western Canada that consists of hundreds of other retail co-ops just like us,” says Bieganski. “While we all run as individual, autonomous entities, with our own membership structure and board of directors, we work together to run common marketing and administration programs.”
With FCL’s resources, smaller organizations such as Vanderhoof Co-op unite to leverage better purchasing power and come together with similar business goals in mind. “They work with us on our behalf, using a central wholesale facility to help us leverage better buying power so we can be competitive with major retailers such as Safeway, Sobeys and Save-on-Foods — the big players,” says Bieganski. “They also provide support from human resources, finance, marketing, information technology and many more services that help us run our operation.”
With 210 retail cooperatives throughout western Canada, the CRS family is strong. “All in all we operate 2,500 facilities employing more than 25,000 employees who serve over 1.6 million members in 500-plus communities in western Canada,” says Bieganski.
Vanderhoof Co-op is a highly integrated organization. In addition to its multiple petroleum and cardlock facilities the cooperative operates a food store, home centre, gas bar and convenience store, and a mini storage space all in Vanderhoof. “We own and operate all of our locations,” says Bieganski.
“In Quesnel, we have our agro store and hardware store and built into this, we have a small convenience store as well as a cardlock facility,” says Bieganski. “Vanderhoof Co-op is currently working to increase its market share in Prince George by entering the gas bar business to complement our two existing cardlocks.”
Home and agro center
Expansion is ongoing for Vanderhoof Co-op. “From 2012 to 2014 we invested more than $6 million in redeveloping our Home and Agro operations, which includes a new store, new building materials storage warehouse, new agro chemical storage shed, new pole sheds, new fencing and new paving,” says Bieganski.
Vanderhoof Co-op’s members celebrated the grand opening of the Home and Agro Center in April 2014. The 23,500-square-foot facility incorporates hardware and building material departments, as well as major appliances, flooring, agricultural and animal health products, feed and fertilizer — all under one roof.
Bieganski says annual reinvestment in new facilities and renovations is important to Vanderhoof Co-op to allow the organization to serve its membership to the best of its ability. “In 2016 we’ve budgeted $9.7 million for new assets,” he details. “Our biggest project is a new gas bar and convenience store in Prince George, which is the largest trading area we serve. We’re also hoping to acquire land in Smithers, British Columbia, and we’re putting some of these dollars into replacing trucks and adding new equipment.”
What doesn’t go toward reinvestment is allocated for member returns. “We reserve a portion of profits [about $4 to $6 million annually] for member payouts,” says Bieganski. “What doesn’t go out as a cash payout turns into membership equity which is redeemable in the future. It’s important to us to return annual profits back to our members and keep resources in the local economy.”
For example, in 2014 out of Vanderhoof Co-op’s earnings, the company allocated more than $7.7 million to its members (at a rate of 3.40 percent) with over $4.5 million being paid out in cash directly to members.
Connecting and creating a strong community
Bieganski says this is what makes the cooperative model so special. “We live where our members live, we work where they work and we help grow the economy right here,” he says. “No matter what community we’re in, the money is staying local. Last year we donated more than $100,000 to various community groups, charities, youth groups and sporting clubs.”
Giving back is something Vanderhoof Co-op takes great pride in. It’s part of the organization’s mission. “We’re growing — we’ve added 40 employees in the last six years and it’s all thanks to member and community support, so we make it a point to pay it forward,” says Bieganski.
As more than a retailer, but a friend and neighbour, Vanderhoof and Districts Co-operative Association continues to make smart, sustainable investments in western Canada communities.