Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut July 10, 2017 - 10:00 am

Struggling Nunavut co-op store looks to boost business

"Ultimately it’s the people of Baker Lake who will decide"

Baker Lake’s Sanavik Co-operative Association is looking for ways to encourage member support at its struggling co-op store. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Baker Lake’s Sanavik Co-operative Association is looking for ways to encourage member support at its struggling co-op store. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Baker Lake’s Sanavik Co-operative Association says it’s looking for ways to encourage business at the Kivalliq community’s co-op store.

The co-op association hosted its annual general meeting in Baker Lake July 5. One of the bigger points of discussion was how to bump sales at the store, one of two major retail outlets in the Kivalliq community of 2,000.

Casey Tulurialik has served as president of the Sanavik Co-operative Association for the last five years, and said the co-op store has struggled financially for most of that time.

Tulurialik pointed to two major issues: the co-op store faces tough pricing from the competition—the local Northern store and two other independently-run stores— and the other major issue is the high management turnover in recent years.

“We talked about having managers coming and going and not staying here in the community permanently,” Tulurialik said of last week’s meeting.

“And getting more support from the members, shopping more often at the co-op.”

Tulurialik would not disclose any of the store’s financial information, although some in the community have suggested the store is close to bankruptcy

Sanavik Co-operative Association was first established in 1971. The association also operates a hotel, convenience store, cable television services, property rentals and a fuel delivery service in the community.

Its parent company, Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., operates co-op stores in every Nunavut community apart from Clyde River. Iqaluit’s Ventures Marketplace is unique in that it is owned and operated by ACL, not a local board as. Other co-op stores are autonomous, community-run businesses, managed by a local board of directors.

A store’s general manager, for example, would be hired by the board and report to its directors.

At the request of the board, ACL can assist them with the recruiting process, such as advertising or pre-screening candidates, as it has done in Baker Lake. But its role is largely a supporting one, said Duane Wilson, ACL’s vice president of stakeholder relations.

The actual store facility in Baker Lake is large and relatively new—it was constructed in 2010.

“The local board at the time expressed the need for a new store,” Wilson said, “but that just hasn’t parlayed into the type of support that that type of investment requires.”

“It’s the type of facility that, if the people choose to support it, it could provide for their many wants and needs,” he added. “It’s not the case that it’s a dramatically sub-standard offering by any case.”

Ultimately, co-ops in small communities can be very successful in meeting the needs of their communities and returning benefits to their member owners, Wilson said, but that relies on members’ support.

“If people in Baker Lake are concerned about predatory pricing or a monopoly, they might be best served by making a decision to support a locally-owned business that they’re members of,” he said.

“It’s no one desire to see the people of Baker Lake lose a [retail] option. But ultimately it’s the people of Baker Lake who will decide.”

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