When One Store Becomes Two

Carolee Colter
March 14th 2019

by Carolee Colter, CDS Consulting Co-op

When you open a second business location, there may be joy and excitement. But there may also be jealousy and feelings of abandonment. In times of stress and perceived scarcity, that “us vs. them” tendency can raise its head among the staff in both locations.

Stacked produceI asked managers of four retail food co-ops about lessons learned in unifying two stores. Although my sources come from co-ops, I believe their lessons apply equally well to independently owned businesses.

It makes a difference how well the new store performs. If sales don’t meet projections, staff at the first location may feel they’ve been asked to sacrifice raises or gainsharing due to financial strains caused by the new store. One GM relates, “I chose to combat this with transparency–being as upfront with staff as possible on the co-op’s performance and our plans for improvement.”

“Even now, when we’re much more profitable,” says a store manager at another co-op, “the narrative isn’t ‘the other store is bringing us down’; it’s ‘what can we do to get the other store up to profitability and make the organization stronger?’ I’m constantly preaching empathy, collaboration and understanding.”


Here’s specific advice from managers who have been through the process:

  • Before the new store opens, create a vision for a future in which the stores root for each other. Then ask your staff what they need to do to make that vision a reality.
  • Language matters. Insist on “we”. When staff says “they”, correct them and remind them to call the other store “our”. Refer to the stores by new names. No “old store”, “new store”, “original location” talk.
  • Remind staff that customers shop both stores. Give them talking points such as, “Shop at either store; it’s one co-op” (or one business).
  • At huddles or staff meetings in each store, celebrate the successes of the other store.
  • Recognize the general manager’s (or owner’s) critical role in providing linkage between the locations. Getting to know the staff at all levels in both stores allows the top leader to bring them together.
  • Build the store manager relationship. Get them to see each other as teammates. Get them meeting weekly. Their relationship is key. As one GM says, “At the end of the day, staff follows the managers’ lead. If the leadership isn’t on board, staff won’t be either.”
  • Get department managers meeting across stores monthly.
  • Hold leadership team meetings in both stores.
  • Encourage staff from the first store to transfer to the new location. At the same time, if that happens on a large scale, recognize that the original store will be assimilating a lot of new staff and ensure the same attention to onboarding as in the new store.
  • Fill in temporary absences in one store with staff from the other.
  • Look for opportunities to decouple your administrative or organizational support staff from the first store even if they still work in original building. Make sure HR, IT, marketing, finance, and purchasing have a presence in both locations. As one GM explains, “Just keep hammering away at the idea that Org Support is here to serve the stores. If the stores don’t execute our plans, it’s our job to make the plans easier and more fun to execute.”
  • Online work platforms can help foster communication between locations.
  • Find occasions to bring the two staffs together: happy hours, softball games, bowling parties, etc. For orientations, have new employees attend meetings in both stores.
  • Acknowledge that the cultures of each store will be different and that’s okay. Emphasize that both stores subscribe to the same core values.


Thanks to Jon Roesser of Weavers Way in Philadelphia, Matt Fuxan of Boise Co-op in Boise, ID, Tim Bartlett of Lexington Real Food Co-op in Buffalo, NY and Dan Gillotte of Wheatsville Co-op of Austin, TX for their insights.

Carolee Colter has been consulting for co-ops and independents in the natural foods industry for over 30 years. She’s been leading workshops at Provender for most of those years. As the leader of the HR Team of CDS Consulting Co-op, she conducts employee surveys, supports co-op boards in hiring and compensating their general managers, and helps employers with job descriptions, pay scales and personnel policies. With Mark Mulcahy and Allen Seidner, for the past 18 years she’s co-led Rising Stars leadership seminars specifically for the natural industry.