The checks came this month like Christmas bonuses.
Thanks to a good year at the Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth, most of its 5,300 members got rebate checks recently. The checks, ranging from 10 cents to $150, were based on how much members spent at the store in the fiscal year ending June 30.
Despite the recession, the co-op had it’s first profitable year since moving to its new digs near Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue East in November 2005. Sharing the profits with members is part of being in a cooperative. But moving into the black so soon after the expansion, came as a surprise.
"We didn’t expect to be profitable for a while," said Sharon Murphy, the co-op’s general manager.
Not that they didn’t work hard for that $350,000 profit, part of which went to taxes and the remaining $208,000 to members in checks and equity. When the recession started, store managers looked at their expenses for places to cut and save.
"We were constantly putting things in place to get to this place," Murphy said. "We worked really hard to reduce expenses and reduce staff without layoffs."
It took them a while, but staff was reduced from 135 to 86 through attrition.
After the co-op’s board of directors authorized the rebates, about 4,700 checks went out. The average check was about $35.
Roughly 1,000 of the checks were less than $5. The co-op isn’t required to issue rebate checks that small, but it did anyway to remind people of the benefits of membership.
To encourage people to actually cash those small checks, the co-op offered them a 5 percent discount on their purchase when they cashed the checks at the store.
As a result, they’ve been cashing an awful lot of checks, Murphy said.