With Elkhorn Twin Valley Co-op’s Home Centre and Gas Bar future at stake, three groups had something to say in the public meeting with the co-op held in Elkhorn, Thursday evening, Oct. 18.
The management and board of directors appeared united in their decision to downsize the co-op retail. Elkhorn staff were heard on several points regarding day-to-day service. The Chamber and community members expressed their concern at the prospect of the loss of retail services.
Twin Valley (TV) management and the board had informed Elkhorn members in early October of their decision to close the Home Centre and Gas Bar, coupled with a plan to create a hybrid store within the Food Store to carry hardware items there.
This evoked a strong community reaction that saw about 150 people at the meeting chaired by Elkhorn & District Chamber of Commerce.
General Manager Dwayne Moncur presented facts and figures showing “unsustainable” losses, going back 15 years. He said “Fifteen years ago the sales were higher. We sold $2.5 million of (livestock) feed. But the (profit) margin wasn’t all that great. Now we’re selling… $1.2 million.”
Hardware sales dropped overall about $70,000 in the last 15 years he said and gas sales are lower. He called fuel sales a “loss leader”.
He said, “In 15 years that wholesaler (Home Centre and Gas Bar) has lost $1,019,168, the food store, in 15 years [lost] $1,137,432.”
“We want to be here for the long term. Unless something miraculous happens, I don’t know what else we could do in order to sustain the food store,” he told Elkhorn customers, explaining the plan to sell the most in-demand hardware store merchandise through the grocery store.
“We’re getting out of pump gas and we’re getting out of propane,” said Moncur, however, the food store will be able to supply propane customers with an exchange-a-tank program. The co-op will also supply the arena’s Zamboni with propane.
“The Elkhorn Agro is motoring along, they’re doing a fine job,” said Moncur. But he said this didn’t make up for the other losses.
With an Elkhorn TV membership of just 512, customer loyalty was presented as an issue. Moncur said there were 77 members who purchased less than $100 in a year. “They’re buying fuel somewhere else… hardware… paint.”
Moncur suggested that co-op stores in Moosomin and Virden are attracting Elkhorn dollars.
New meaning for shop local
TV has branches in Russell, Rossburn, Birtle, Miniota as well as Elkhorn. Vice-President of the Board Mark Morton pointed out that Elkhorn losses drain equity from other branches.
There also seems to be competition within Twin Valley’s branches, as Brent Nolan found out. He said he built his home in 2016, having the estimate for materials done by the Birtle store and sourcing the material from Miniota Twin Valley
“Never once did it occur to me that I should have had it billed all through the Elkhorn Home Centre. So we built a home and the Elkhorn store got absolutely no credit for it.”
Elkhorn members asked TV management and board to examine the amount that Elkhorn and area people spend throughout the Twin Valley system.
They expressed disappointment with the communication around the proposed downsizing of services within Elkhorn, asking why they weren’t warned months ago of the possibility of the closure.
Members challenged TV regarding past requests for highway signage advertising the Elkhorn stores.
MC for the meeting, Mark Humphries explained how the store closures can affect other Elkhorn businesses. “Why do we want to keep that shop? We want to keep it for all the other shops in town. The less footfall we have on the main street, that puts every other business on the main street at risk.”
He added, “We were under the assumption that our bulk purchases through the farm store were being put through that co-op. That’s one big issue that I think you guys, before you put the rubber stamp on [store closures] ought to go back and have another look at.”
Despite the many questions posed already, Moncur took a few final questions from the general audience.
One woman credited the staff at the grocery store with a good produce section. But she wanted to know how the grocery store could accommodate the extra hardware stock.
Another person said that not all little places are losing their retails, citing Cromer Valley store which carries everything from work boots to cinnamon buns.
“They’ve built a huge new store down there, and they’re in the middle of nowhere, really,” said Jill Canart of the tiny handful of dwellings, surrounded by oil industry infrastructure. “He’s obviously selling the right stuff, because he hasn’t downsized, he’s upsizing….”
Considering Elkhorn’s advantageous location, she continued, “We’re on No. 1 Hwy. When you ask if we can get another 114 more cars to come through town, absolutely we can.”
Her comments brought a round of applause.
Toward the close of the meeting Moncur said, “I’m not sure what the expectation is here. I’m sure most of you want that location to remain open. Perhaps it can be.” But he didn’t want to leave the community with false hope either.
It remains to be seen what further action will be taken.