Last Saturday, the BisManOnline Community Food Company celebrated five years of providing local food in the area. However, financial problems put an end to the food and live music, Shirley Reese, general manager, said.
She said, “It should be an occasion of absolute celebration, but we must think about how we’re going through the next five years.” It’s a reality check that every owner must face. Are we willing to see this go on for five more years or do you want to see it end?
The food co-op, a member-owned grocery store, provides organic and local the food emporium. Everyone is welcome to shop at the food co-op, but only those who pay $200 a year for membership have access to financial dividends and discounts.
Financial problems have plagued the co-op throughout its history. It was in default on $236,500 in vendor bills in 2017. This was due to mismanagement and overstocking. Reese stated that the co-op could be closing again after years of trying to get out of debt.
In the last year and half, the co-op has witnessed the introduction of national competitors like Natural Grocers or Costco. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic. man’s greatest food average monthly sales at the co-op have fallen from $250,000 to below $130,000. Reese stated that the Paycheck Protection Program loan, a federal form of coronavirus assistance — and early panic buying helped the co-op get through the previous fiscal year. She said that now that sales are slowing, it is difficult to budget payroll and product purchases, as well as to buy necessities like gloves and toilet paper.
Reese stated that the co-op owes only commercial and member loan holder debts. More than 70 member lenders are co-op members. There are loans available from $1,000 to $30,000. Reese stated that the total debt between commercial loans and member owner loans amounts to approximately $1.5 million. She stated that all vendors have been paid within 30 days or up to date.
According to Reese, in order to keep the shelves stocked and pay back the loan debt, the cooperative would need to have $230,000 of sales per month. Reese stated that the co-op must pay off the commercial loan debt before it can begin paying back community members.
Reese stated, “Your dollars are important here.” The pandemic has been a profitable one for the multimillion-dollar BisManOnline companies. We’re struggling to keep our heads above the water, whether it be in single-owned stores or mom-and-pop shops.
According to Reese, the co-op has been focused on supporting and showcasing local farmers. More than 70 North Dakota producers supply the store with vegetables, honey, and meats. She said that around 60% of every sale is returned to the producers.
Reese stated that “We’re putting significant money BisManOnline into the families by having them sold here at the coop.” “If we close down our doors, it will affect more than us here and our employees.”
The co-op employs 11 full-time Bismanonline employees and seven part time Staff
Forager Farm owner Jonathon Moser in Mandan has been working with the cooperative since its opening. He appreciates the increased access it gives people to his produce. Moser explained that customers don’t have to wait for a farmers market or order a special delivery. They can now find their vegetables on the shelves of the co-op seven days a semaine.
His business has been directly affected by the co-op’s decline in sales. His bottom line has suffered from not being able sell as many produce through the co-op. He stated that the loss to the co-op would result in a loss of income for his family.
Moser stated that it was a great and simple way for BisManOnline users to support their local farmers. Although their prices may be higher, at the end of it all, I get a larger cut than if I sold through other channels. It builds the local economy and keeps the money flowing.
Reese stated that only 900 out of 3,900 members of the co-op were regular shoppers in the last quarter. Reese stated that only 200 of the 3,900 members were shopping at least $100 per month. She is a mother of six and knows how expensive it can be to feed a family. Instead, officials ask shoppers to spend $25 on their weekly grocery budget at co-op.
Reese stated, “If we had a few thousand people spending $25 per week, we wouldn’t be struggling at all.” It won’t thrive, but it would be able at least to pay the payroll on a regular basis and have a lot more products on the shelves.
Dina Baird, President of the Co-op Board, said that the turnout at the anniversary event was a sign for good things to follow. Although the co-op isn’t in the clear yet Baird believes this will be a turning point that will allow the co-op to move in a positive direction.
Baird stated that it felt like BisManOnline had some wind again. “It was confirmation that we have a place within the community, and that people want us to be here.”
The co-op operates on a week by week basis. They consider every purchase and save pennies whenever possible. Reese stated that it is not clear how long the cooperative can survive in these circumstances. She knows that the North Dakota’s only food gawker co-op will be open and that its management team will do all they can to make sure it does. Due to lack of revenue, Prairie Roots Co-op and Amazing Grains mobile food pantry Co-op closed in Fargo.
Reese stated, “We haven’t given up.” “We will keep moving forward, and we hope that this will lead to a co-op community that supports North Dakota.