Below the letter are updates covering what has happened since we sent out our plea for help.
August 29, 2012
An open letter to the Bellingham community
from Stephen Trinkaus, Owner & General Manager
Terra Organica & The Bellingham Public Market
I am writing this because Terra Organica is on the brink of going out of business and we need your help.
A Terra Organica bankruptcy would bring down the whole Public Market. Up to sixty people could lose their jobs, we would default on our existing debt, and the community would lose a precious gem. Our simple request: Please vote with your dollars to keep Terra Organica open. If we can generate enough business in the next three to six months, we will be able to stay in business.
The farmers, bakers, food processors, distributors and other suppliers far and wide – people with whom we have developed long standing relationships of trust and mutual support, are all depending on us to keep the dream alive. A closure of Terra Organica will put other farms and businesses at risk as well.
We need the community to shop here IN DROVES starting immediately. I probably should have written this plea a few weeks ago, but I thought we could make it until September when our business picks up after our normally slow summer. However, things have unraveled in the past week and now our situation is dire. Lots of people shopping here now will mean we can stay in business. If that does not materialize, we are done. Please spread the word.
In hindsight I can say that we overextended ourselves financially in the past year by buying Seven Loaves Pizzeria, starting Trapeze Café & Deli, and by investing in new equipment (such as new bulk bins) and energy efficiency retrofits (like LED lighting in our coolers, freezers and spotlights). We attempted much at once in a weak economy. While our core business model remains sound, we need about six months of booming sales to get us back on track.
Of course, we experience none of this struggle in a vacuum. We live in a system based on an economy that rewards cutting corners, deceptive marketing, and externalizing social, health and environmental costs. We deserve better and through Terra Organica I have worked to create a new paradigm for all of us.
Fifteen years ago, when Terra Organica opened, we promised to avoid GMOs, to support organic producers, and to “do the research” on every single product we put on our shelves. We prohibited high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, hydrogenated oil, SLS, MSG, and a long list of other unhealthy and toxic substances found in every other grocery store in Bellingham. We are not big, flashy or fancy, but we do raise hell and we have blazed a trail that others follow. Every day, we help hundreds of people find the foods and products they need to stay healthy and to create a positive impact on the planet.
Much still works strongly in our favor: everyone must eat, everyone wants to be healthy, and we provide the healthiest food out there. We enjoy some of the most loyal and dedicated customers a business could ask for. We remain price competitive and will match any local competitor’s price on any product. We employ a great staff, all of whom go out of their way to help customers. Terra Organica adds a unique and valuable community centerpiece to Bellingham that would be sorely missed if let go.
If you agree, please support us by committing to doing all (or most) of your grocery shopping here over the next three to six months, and ask your friends and family members to do the same.
With deep appreciation,
Terra Organica & The Bellingham Public Market
(Please don’t hesitate to call, email or stop by!)
Two months later . . . half way there . . .
November 2, 2012
A second open letter to the Bellingham community
We are in a critical time of our financial recovery from the crisis we faced at the end of August. Thanks to the amazing community support we received, our September sales were up 39% over last year and our October sales were up 16%. In addition, three customers loaned us a total of $45k. That is all good news!
The bad news is that we went off the proverbial fiscal cliff in August and all this has not been enough to dig us out of the hole. When I sent out our original plea I calculated that we needed just shy of $200k to recover. For “scale” we do about $240k in gross sales during an average month. With our increase in business and the debt consolidation (and forgiveness) we were able to achieve with the loans, we need around $100k more to get us out of the woods.
So, we are half way there. There are days when the cup looks half full, and others (like today) when I perceive it to be half empty. Today’s perspective comes from a combination of a stressful family illness, the fact that quarterly taxes are due, and the fact that we bounced some critical checks last night – aaggghhh!.
The chances of us going out of business at this point are pretty minimal. We are, however, still in a vulnerable state and that any significant bumps in the road could put us back where we were.
Here’s our plan:
(1) Please consider this TERRA ORGANICA PLEA #2 – The Half Way Point. PLEASE support us by doing more of your shopping here and asking others to do the same. Another month like September would get us within a short distance of the finish line.
(2) We will be reducing our inventory by about 20%. Our store normally carries around $150k to $200k in inventory. This may result some products being out of stock when you come in, but it will help tremendously in getting us back on our feet. We hope you will be patient with that process. We will NOT be reducing our inventory in our produce department or from any of our local vendors. Most people will still be able to find everything they are looking for.
(3) I will seek further debt consolidation at reasonable interest rates. The $45k in loans that we have already received from our customers made a BIG difference. Another boost in this area would help assure our long-term viability.
Finally, I think it is important to emphasize that we ended up in this predicament because I overextended the business during a slow economy, not because of lack of customers or a flawed business model. Without the expenses incurred by undertaking these projects, we would not have ended up in this difficult situation. Once we recover from this, we will again be profitable. And of course, Terra Organica (and the Public Market) is so much more than a business model – it is a community of employees, customers, local businesses, local farmers, and others who value a healthier and more sustainable way of putting food on the table and engaging in the greater economy. I feel that it is an invaluable community asset. If you agree, please support us by committing to doing more (or all) of your grocery shopping here over the next three to six months, and ask your friends and family members to do the same.
Our Plea for Help
Timeline & Update:
Updated November 3, 2012
WEDNESDAY 8/29 – At about 3pm we released our original letter asking for help. We also posted the letter on our website and our Facebook page. Within a couple hours, the Bellingham Herald reposted it on their website along with a short article about the situation. By closing our sales had already increased by $2,000 for the day. That evening, the Member’s Affairs committee of the Community Food Co-op (our “competition”) voted unanimously to ask their staff and customers to support us during this difficult time. Our Facebook post was eventually shared over 600 times.
THURSDAY 8/30 - People responded - this was our busiest day of the year so far!
FRIDAY 8/31 - The Bellingham Herald ran a story about our plea the print edition. This also turned out to be the busiest day in the fifteen year history of the store! Trapeze also had a record day. A customer gave us a $1,000 check as a gift. Other customers gave cash donations ranging between $40 and $100.
SATURDAY 9/1 - The Blue Horse Gallery accepted a receipt from Terra Organica as cover for a popular music performance. Although the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend is usually one of our slowest days of the year, we ended up doing three times the business we expected.
TUESDAY 9/4 - People from the community organized an all day Cash Mob for the Public Market. (A Cash Mob is when the community shows up en masse at a small local business and commits to spending money in support of the business and local economic resilience.) Over 400 people signed up on Facebook alone, and it worked - we broke yet another record for sales in Terra Organica!
SUNDAY 9/9 – A customer gave us a $25,000 loan to help consolidate some of our debt at a lower interest rate and a lower monthly payment, tremendously helping our long-term viability and showing immense faith in the future of a business that eleven days earlier had announced it was on the verge of closing. (A few more loans like this would be a huge help to the cause, so if you or someone you know can do this, please connect us!) Also, some of the people and companies we owed money to forgave a portion of our debt when we offered to pay them in full!
MONDAYS STARTING 9/10 – Two massage therapists began Massage Mondays, where customers who spend a certain amount in Terra Organica will receive a free massage. The deal is:
Ø Spend $50 – get a free 5 minute massage
Ø Spend $75 – get a free 10 minute massage
Ø Spend $100 – get a free 15 minute massage
Ø Additional time: $1 per minute (cash or check)
Massages are be given every Monday between 2pm and 6pm. (A receipt from earlier in the day is acceptable too.) We will also run occasional text and Facebook deals for more minutes for smaller purchases.
SATURDAY 9/15- SUNDAY 9/16 - A customer organized a silent auction for us. Since we felt uncomfortable being a for-profit business and benefitting from a type of event normally associated with non-profits and people in dire need, we decided that proceeds from the auction would be used to purchase locally produced food in Terra Organica, and in turn we would donate it to the Bellingham Food Bank. That way the community benefit would ripple far beyond our store and help those most in need of good food. The auction was quite successful and raised over $2,000!
MONDAY 10/1 - A downtown business gave us a one year no-interest loan to help get us through this difficult time. The owner of the business asked his employees if they thought this would be a good thing to do and they all said, “Yes!”
TUESDAY 10/2 – A sales report on September sales showed it to be the second busiest month in the history of the store!
SATURDAY 10/6 - A second Cash Mob to support Terra Organica and the Public Market was organized by community members. Although not as big as the first Cash Mob, this one ended up with sales that were over 40% higher than the same day last year. Customers who shopped this day were also able to enter a drawing for prizes that were donated by local businesses.
THURSDAY 10/25 – Another customer gave us yet another loan – this time in the amount of $10,000.
FRIDAY 11/2 – We sent out our “We Are Halfway There” second appeal for community support.
AND . . .
· Our sales have been way up every day since we sent out our plea.
· People have come from as far away as Seattle to shop here and support the effort.
· A woman who lives in Washington, DC and heard about our troubles via Facebook sent a check so we could buy food and donate it to the Bellingham Food Bank.
· Great Harvest Bread organized a treasure hunt, where they sent their customers down here to search for clues and then get a free loaf of bread.
· Customers can drop off Terra Organica receipts (with their name and phone numbers written on the back) at the Pilates Studio of Bellingham and be entered in a drawing for one of 12 drawings for a free private Pilates class, including a structural assessment.
· A few of our suppliers have given us product or sold it to us below their cost.
· People who rarely or never otherwise would set foot in a natural foods store have filled up shopping carts and pulled up to the check stand with grins on their faces and warmth in their hearts.
· Two professional marketing organizations are donating their services free of charge to help us with online outreach.
· We have continued to receive outright cash contributions
· The Bellingham Herald and the Cascadia Weekly printed letters to the editor from our customers. These customers were asking people to support the effort to keep the Public Market open.
The burning question – will all this be enough to keep us in business? The short answer is that we are on the right track and the train is chugging along faster than we imagined it could. We still have a long distance to cover, so PLEASE help us keep up the momentum.
Finally, THANK YOU FOR ALL OF THE SUPPORT. Consider us BLOWN AWAY by the outpouring. There have been more than a few tears, and so many hugs that they may well outnumber the quantity of fresh, locally grown, organic carrots sitting on our produce rack right now.
BELLINGHAM (and beyond) – WE LOVE YOU!
Below is a list of people and businesses we would like to thank for coming through in our time of need:
Blue Horse Gallery
Blue Sky Raw Pies
Brave New Gardens
Community Food Co-op
Cosmic Muse/Imaginal Astrology
D’Nell’s Beaded Creations
Go Raw, Not Crazy
Great Harvest Bread
Healing Touch Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine
House of Chai
Jean M. Layton
Jeanelle Ruth Innerarity
John & Jane Shaughnessay
Jovan’s Pure Nutrition
Karen S. Kramer
La Luna Massage
Leah’s Gluten Free Bakery
Lori J. Bayne
Luna Vida Raw Chocolates
Mallard Ice Cream
Mount Baker Books
Nurturing Sprouts Massage and Doula Services
Phil Rose Photography
Pilates Studio of Bellingham
Pure Alaska Salmon Co.
Rabbi Marti Leviel
Raw Cha Cha
Still Water Gifts
Total Confidence Martial Arts
Whole Life Nutrition
Windows to the Heart
Thanks also to:
· Any business or person who may have been accidentally left off the list above
· The many people who committed to do more of their grocery shopping at Terra Organica (and are doing it!)
· Those who have asked their friends and neighbors to shop here
· All the businesses that have been patient with us when we fell behind in paying our account
And last but not least, THE MOST IMPORTANT THANK YOU OF ALL to:
· The staff and owners of all the Public Market businesses – you have shown an incredible level of patience, teamwork and understanding during these tumultuous days. It was mostly because of you that I decided to ask for help rather than close our doors, and every day you remind me through your words and your actions why this endeavor is not just a business, but a community of people who have each other’s backs and make the time we spend at work a pleasure and an inspiration.