Southern Plains Co-operative has doubled sales and quadrupled profits over the past five years and that spectacular pace of growth continued in 2011 and into 2012 for the 65-year-old institution that is headquartered in Estevan.
On Monday night Southern Plains held its annual general meeting in the Taylorton Room at Days Inn with 61 members and guests in attendance.
The evening's agenda was steered to conclusion by board president Robert Grimsrud who, along with general manager Gerald Gane, fielded most of the questions and concerns coming from the floor.
Rapid growth not only comes with record profits, but also unique challenges and none were more evident than a demand coming from the Oxbow area members who are now impatiently seeking a permanent solution to their current problem. They have a grocery outlet that is far too small to meet demands and a fuel and agricultural service that requires more space and service.
The Oxbow demands were placed before the entire membership in a respectful tone, first by Wayne Amos and later by a few other Oxbow area members.
The tone of the evening, however, was celebratory, even from the Oxbow delegation as they joined the others in acknowledging a business that nearly reached $70 million in sales last year at its Estevan, Carlyle and Oxbow locations. Southern Plains turned a $746,000 loss in operations last year into an operating profit of nearly $302,000 and a net savings of just under $4 million compared with just under $2 million last year, enjoying a 13.7 profit margin in the process.
“Total sales were up $9 million over last year,” said Gane in presenting his verbal report to the members. That allowed the local Co-op to give back nearly $900,000 in equity payments to the shareholders ... their members.
The evening included a rare event in the history of the local co-op, a need for an election to fill four vacant positions on the board of directors as seven people had allowed their names to stand for consideration. Usually the 12-member board requires just three positions to be filled each year using a rotating system of elections. Those positions are often filled by acclamation. But with veteran director Leonard Haukeness stepping down after one year of a three-year term, one of the elected members was going to fill the remaining two years of his term while three others would be elected to three-year mandates.
When the private vote was completed and ballots counted, incumbent members Scott Kienlen and Trevor Doty were re-elected to serve three-year terms while Wendy May Clark, a newcomer on the ballot, was also elected as was Mo Choudary, who will complete the two-year term vacated by Haukeness. The other candidates, who were thanked by Grimsrud for allowing their names to stand and to represent the principles of the Co-operative movement, were Verla Pierce, Marjorie Nyeste and Cameron Robock.
“Last year the weather provided a real challenge when it came to farming and crops and oilfield activities, but we still registered this growth,” said Gane, who added that growth provided some stability and the ability to give something back to members.
Growth was noted at all seven locations including a 1.4 per cent increase in the grocery outlet in Estevan to $13.2 million along with a 25.8 per cent growth at the Fourth Street convenience store and gas bar that registered nearly $6.5 million in sales and another 20 per cent increase to $16 million at the Agro Centre and 33.9 per cent growth to $9.3 million at the Kensington location in Estevan.
In spite of all the physical restrictions that hamper the Oxbow location, it too, showed an 18.8 per cent increase to nearly $4 million while the Carlyle outlet showed an 8.6 per cent hike in business to $7.43 million and another 10.5 per cent increase at their gas bar to $7.64 million following the completion of an expansion and renovation project.
When it came to the Oxbow concerns, Amos said he and other members in that district felt they were “on the low end of the priority scale,” and wondered out loud why Southern Plains were unable to acquire a suitable property that would lead to expansion.
Grimsrud said the overall plan for Oxbow is to have a one-stop centre for all services and that would require a large chunk of land (in excess of five acres), and that in turn would lead to the largest investment ever made by Southern Plains for any project. But so far, they had been unable to secure the property in or near that town's central business core or in the outskirt retail and industrial sectors.
“We haven't had any success in finding the right size for the investment we'll make which will be the largest ever in our history,” said Grimsrud who assured Amos and others that the Oxbow dilemma was on the board's agenda every month and the search continues since the current parcel acquired some time ago is not large enough, but that perhaps something will be done with it in the future.
During the course of the evening, Grimsrud received an award for having served 15 years on the executive while Nadine Elson, Jack Bramham and Haukeness picked up awards for 12 years.
Building committee chairman Trevor Doty noted that a major renovation is planned for the Estevan grocery store that will include a new exterior look and interior reworking.