Staff Engagement Key to Success


Berkshire Co-op Market
Great Barrington, MA

Year founded:  1981
Membership investment:  $150
Number of members:  3,000
Number of staff:  60
Retail square feet:  4,500

Daniel Esko has been in the role of general manager at Berkshire Co-op Market in Great Barrington, MA for exactly a year.  Even though he been at the co-op for years doing various jobs, including stock receiver, buyer and grocery manager, he knew that he needed to plan carefully how to start off right when he came back to the co-op as the general manager.  He believed from day one that an engaged staff was crucial to the co-op’s success.

daniel-esko-L-pullout-solutions-2017-03“I looked back on my own work history and saw that training that helped me understand the business better contributed to my own interest in the co-op.”  As he saw it, the people who understood the co-op’s financial health were more committed to the co-op, but those individuals tended to be in management roles.  Esko wanted more people to have a shared understanding of the business underpinnings of the co-op, and took the necessary steps to implement Open Book Management at Berkshire.

Esko saw OBM as an essential tool and process of staff development.  The co-op is looking at expansion, and Esko thought engaging staff would be a necessary investment in the co-op’s future.  “We prioritized it,” he said.

Once he decided to go forward with instituting OBM, he contacted Melanie Reid, human resources systems and support consultant to assist with the process.  “It’s a 3-5 month process to go from deciding to do it, to implementing it,” Reid said.  Reid coached them throughout implementation to help the co-op stay on track with its goals and offered tools and resources, including those shared by other co-ops.

In keeping with the theme of participation, when Berkshire was ready to roll out their program, they hosted a day-long OBM workshop facilitated by Reid and invited co-ops from around the region to attend.  “It was a great way to have a day of learning and bringing other people together to share ideas and information in the spirit of cooperation,” she said.

Berkshire’s strong commitment to staff engagement and education paid off in many ways.  “We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response,” said Esko about OBM at Berkshire.  “It’s improving staff investment and involvement of the business to a group of people who didn’t have the opportunity to do that before,” he said.  “People are working together in new ways.”

Their first big group project:  raise basket size.  They named it Basket Builders, with the goal to increase basket size month over month from Oct-Dec in 2016.  It generated lots of inter-departmental conversations that led to more coordinated marketing and cross-merchandising.  “We’ve always had cross merchandizing, but this time people were actively helping out, and were willing and more excited to do it.”  The staff started evaluating promotions and display concepts with an eye toward raising incremental sales dollars.  “They even started using lingo they hadn’t used before,” he said.

They kept track of their results on a digital display board in Google Drive.  “It was easy to read and understand,” Esko said.  They were able to raise their average basket by $1.40 per transaction!  “OBM is changing the way employees see the business and that they have an influence on it.  You can see it in the basket size.”

The staff were also rewarded for their participation—initially with a $15 gift card for all employees if they met their first month’s goal—and later with another $15 gift card and a taco party for meeting all the goals.  “It was great,” Esko said.  “They could enjoy the rewards together as a team.”

“What we’re building to is to a margin-minus-labor game that will help us be successful as a business,” he said.  He also said that OBM is changing the work culture at the co-op.  He thinks the opportunity to share ideas and participate in actions that influence the co-op’s success has also increased the staff’s desire to participate.  “People had always enjoyed their jobs, but they weren’t always making the connection between their work and the business,” Esko said this is doubly important as the co-op prepares for greater capacity in an expanded store.  “It’s helping us build relationships and interconnectedness.”

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