Mid-Life Crisis
May-june 2014
Let's make this clear right now, this is not about me! It's about big box, one-stop-shopping distribution outlets: food, clothing, and a variety of other things. This business model, which has been thrust forward since the 1960s thanks to mass consumption, is showing signs of fatigue. Experts are calling this a "mid-life crisis". In fact, French food giants, such as Casino and Carrefour, have shrunk the sales areas of their biggest stores. They are working very hard to improve the consumers' shopping experience and make it more pleasant. They are using pretty colours and including rest areas furnished with benches.

They feel threatened. The local shopping is back in the public's good graces. Big box stores were ideal for families with children. Everyone would jump in the car and head out to buy 'club size' products at cheap prices. However, families are smaller today, and as people get older they are less likely (and capable) of 'jumping' anywhere! Not to mention the health, environmental and ethical issues that have become part of our daily lives and with which big box outlets, seen as heartless and soulless, are at odds.

The threat is so great that Starbucks, a multinational coffee empire, is currently experimenting with a 'de-branding' strategy in the U.K. Having invested colossal sums to impress its brand with a strong image, the company is now removing its name from its products and trying to establish a more intimate relationship with its clientele. In British coffee shops employees are encouraged to ask customers for their names when ordering so as to identify their orders and cups. In New York, Starbucks even opened an incognito coffee shop under an assumed name to give the appearance of a local "neighbourhood" coffee shop.

Truth be told, the search for proximity is now a huge issue. Fortunately, proximity has always been an asset for our cooperatives. No one gets lost in our store aisles. Furthermore, employees know and recognize you, as long as you go there often enough! That is the kind of amazing proximity we need to maintain, especially in these days of consolidation and expansion. Last year, a committee was created to follow up on the network's planning strategy. This committee will soon be addressing the concept of proximity in an effort to examine its ins and outs and then propose accordingly supporting avenues. The vitality of our cooperative democracy depends on it.

Indeed, big box outlets have become suspect. They're too big, they're too far, and they're dehumanized… and dehumanizing. That's not all: consumption has become a means for people to express their personality just as much as it is a means to meet their needs. You must admit that it's much more thoughtful to say "I bought it at the co-op" than it is to say "I bought it at Walmart." Big box stores can undoubtedly boast a greater selection of products, but too many choices can often lead to confusion. Wouldn't you agree that choosing a shampoo in a big box store has become somewhat puzzling? Not to mention the mind numbing passage through the seemingly endless snack aisle. Just between us, do we really need snack flavours such as buffalo wings, nacho, sour cream and dill, pickle or even pizza?

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: 514 850-2567


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