Ken Keelor is chief executive officer of Calgary Co-op.
Calgary’s Business: How tough of a market is it these days in Calgary with all the grocery store competition?
Keelor: The competitive environment in retail is compounded by the economic downturn in Calgary – with unemployment and commercial space vacancy rates that will take years to recover. In tough times, competition gets fiercer as everyone tries to grab a fair share of a flat to shrinking market. We have seen a sharp increase in discounting overall, some sudden changes at a struggling national grocery chain, and a severe weakening of consumer confidence. This means tighter spending, including more cherry-picking or shopping around for promotional items.
CB: What do you think differentiates Co-op from your competitors?
Keelor: Calgary Co-op is undeniably and authentically local – Calgary and the surrounding communities in which we operate are genuinely the reason for our existence. We are owned by our 440,000 member-owners. All profit we generate is invested directly back into our local communities – hired from our communities, purchased from local suppliers, refurbished our local store assets to serve our local members better, donated on behalf of our members to local community organizations, and most uniquely returned to our member owners as cash and shares in their local Calgary Co-op.
Our local Co-op connection sets us apart distinctly from all our major competitors – they can never be who we are, a genuine neighbour within our communities. Add to all that, no other grocery store provides you with the level of awesome service our inspired team members deliver each day, all year long. Whether it’s grocery carry-out service at our food stores, free prescription delivery from our pharmacies, full service at self-serve prices at our gas bars, or expert advice from sommeliers at our wine, spirits and beer locations.
CB: What are your growth plans for the market? How many stores do you have and what’s the potential for the number of stores in the coming years?
Keelor: Calgary Co-op has an aggressive and impressive appetite for sustainable growth on behalf of our member-owners. Sustainable is the key word, as it isn’t just sales growth at any cost – we have an obligation to add value to our business for our member-owners. We have a $1-billion capital investment plan over the next eight years as we redevelop, refurbish, leverage technology, and build sustainable retail operations for the long term. Currently, we have 24 food centres, 24 pharmacies, 30 gas bars, 24 car washes, 28 liquor stores and three home health-care centres.
CB: You have several sites that are being looked at for future mixed-use developments. Can you explain which ones and why you would like to move in that direction?
Keelor: By reinvesting in the communities we are able to provide friendly neighbourhoods, diverse housing options and inspirational spaces that serve to enhance the overall shopping experience for our member-owners.
In January 2018, we broke ground on our first mixed-use development at Mission Landing, which represented the beginning of a new real estate and development chapter for Calgary Co-op. We also have plans to redevelop our North Hill, Brentwood, Dalhousie and Oakridge locations. These are complex, multi-year work efforts that are being designed to provide member-owners with modern, exceptional shopping experiences – integrated with surrounding streetscapes and pathways. Our vision for the redevelopment of these centres is to provide attractive community destinations, with rooftop greenhouses, community gardens, and green spaces that showcase Calgary Co-op’s genuine commitment to environmental sustainability.
CB: Some Canadian grocery stores are contemplating selling cannabis when it becomes legalized. What about Co-op?
Keelor: It’s a very exciting time in the Canadian retail industry as we prepare for the legalization of cannabis. Calgary Co-op has a definite interest in this line of business, expanding our service to our member-owners. We are waiting on municipal approvals. Much like our Calgary Co-op liquor stores, our cannabis locations will operate in accordance with the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission’s (AGLC) provincial guidelines and the City of Calgary’s municipal requirements.
Calgary Co-ops will offer recreational cannabis consumers a safe, trusted, reliable branded environment, supported by knowledgeable team members who demonstrate our core values – caring, service and excellence. We take immense pride in offering choices, and member-owners who choose to purchase recreational cannabis, will receive exceptional shopping experiences every time they visit their neighbourhood Calgary Co-op store.
– Mario Toneguzzi
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.