The Company You Keep

Manly Food Co-Op 

“We’re all in this together” is a mantra we’ve heard countless times through COVID-19, and it’s one that’s always been true for Manly Food Co-Operative, a volunteer run bulk food store on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

In this episode, we hear from chairperson Sarah Weate on how the business has leveraged its culture of cooperation to get online and continue serving its 4,000 strong member base through the pandemic. 

Listen below and be sure to subscribe on your favourite podcast app

Manly Food Co-Op on the empowering benefits of imperfection

In this episode, we catch up Sarah Weate, chairperson of Manly Food Co-operative. Manly Food Co-Op has for decades conducted all of its trade in a bricks and mortar store but decided to rapidly change tack during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep their employees and customers safe by launching an online store. 

Sarah shares insights on how to take customers on the journey with you when you move online, how to troubleshoot early teething problems with new ordering systems and how expanding your customer touchpoints can help your business sprout green shoots even amid a time of economic gloom. 

We asked Sarah about the decision to shift their operations online in only two days and she said: "Even when we were making the decision, we didn't know that it was the right decision. But I think in a time that you just got to make a decision. Even if it's the wrong decision, you can always go back 48 hours later, but you just need to do something.

"I think, especially organisations that are consensus-driven and very collaborative, sometimes that can be a bit of paralysis around decisions, and I think you just have to get on and just make a decision, and also be really prepared to say, 'Oh, I got that wrong'," she adds. 

When asked about what lessons she's learnt along the way, Sarah said: "It's taught me that leadership is about bringing people along with you and to listen to people because we're very lucky as a co-op because, for our small business, we have somebody who's a senior marketing person, somebody else who designs 5G chips and you know, who's pretty smart.

"We've got great people who are doing great things. And I think that leadership's about just giving people the space to be able to use their expertise and to be able to do what they do really well and to listen to what their thoughts are about it."

Collaboration has always been at the forefront for Manly Food Co-op, even in times of crisis. 

"I think it's really been amazing as a group, that we achieve so much. And people have really difficult day jobs. I mean, at the moment, obviously, everyone's really... people who have work are really stressed because they've got so much work while they're adapting," said Sarah.

"We've got people on the board who are really struggling with their day jobs and they're still dialling into the board meetings and still saying what they think." 

Disclaimer: Our guests are real business owners and their experiences are their true stories. The guests express views and opinions that are from their own learnings and insights.

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