Local Co-ops consider amalgamation

Winkler Co-op general manager Evan Toews and board member Grant Fehr answered questions about the proposed retail partnership at an information meeting Nov. 15. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

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A proposed retail partnership between Winkler and Lowe Farm Co-ops will be going to a vote next week.

Winkler Co-op held an information meeting on Nov. 15 at the Buhler Active Living Centre, and Lowe Farm Co-op held a meeting on Nov. 13 to discuss the potential amalgamation and its benefits to members.

Members will be voting on the proposed partnership next week.

This amalgamation has been in the works for several months, and Winkler Co-op general manager Evan Toews said one of the reasons the board made the decision to amalgamate was because of shared values and work ethic between Lowe Farm and Winkler.

“Many of the people have the same views on many things,” he said. “Winkler and Lowe Farm have partnered in many ways in the past and share a lot of members and citizens. We felt it was a good natural fit.”

The merger comes as Co-op said competition has become widespread and the partnership would allow Co-op to remain strong and competitive in Winkler and Lowe Farm.

“Businesses have been closing in small communities and businesses have relied on serving them from more urban centres,” Winkler Co-op board member Grant Fehr said at the information meeting. “We believe that small communities that have local support can continue to grow and thrive and the Co-op model is the best fit for this growth.”

Toews said the amalgamation would also be a good strategy for the ag and petroleum sector.
With the amalgamation, Co-op members would have access to 23 facilities, including two food stores (Winkler and Morden), two bulk petroleum centres, six retail fuel locations, one car wash, 3 agro centres and five cardlocks, among others.

Equity accumulated in either Co-op will be carried forward into the new Co-op. Members of both Lowe Farm and Winkler Co-ops will have their equity combined.

Co-op also said no jobs will be lost as a result of the amalgamation.

Toews said Co-op has been getting some feedback from members. “I think most people are understanding that this is a good fit,” he said.

Annual sales from the combined Co-ops is estimated at $108.7 million, and there currently are 17,520 active members in five communities, with a total of 266 team members.

If members vote no, all amalgamation talk will cease and the two Co-ops will continue to operate individually.

If members vote to go ahead with the partnership, then the work begins almost immediately to transfer memberships and align accounts with suppliers to make the transition as seamless as possible.

The proposed starting date of the new Co-op would be March 24, 2019.

Voting will take place in Winkler at the Buhler Active Living Centre on Nov. 27. Registration is at 6:30 p.m. and the vote happens at 7.

In Lowe Farm, the vote will happen Nov. 26 at Lowe Farm Community Centre, with registration beginning at 6:30 p.m. and the vote at 7.