Federated Co-Op Partnered in Prosperity Federated Co-Op Partnered in Prosperity
By Meline Beach
Innovative approaches to cultural awareness, meaningful collaboration, and partnership development.
Seven years shy of its centennial anniversary, Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) has grown tremendously over its nearly 10 decades of existence. The company is owned by more than 160 independent local co-operative associations. These local co-ops own and operate agro centres, food stores, gas stations /convenience stores and home centres. Together, they form the Co-operative Retailing System (CRS), which helps build, feed and fuel more than 600 communities across Western Canada – from Vancouver Island to northwestern Ontario and into the Arctic.
With a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion, the company has embarked on a journey to nurture a welcoming environment, build sustainable communities, understand outreach, and be part of the fabric of the communities they serve. Part of that effort includes the development of cultural awareness training, which is expected to be part of every employee’s onboarding experience.
Earlier this year, FCL launched Western Nations – a new program dedicated to building and growing long-term mutually beneficial working relationships with Indigenous communities across Western Canada. Western Nations locations are not part of a co-operative, but remain independent, Indigenous-owned and controlled gas bars that are supported and supplied by FCL and local Co-ops.
Through this program, FCL and local Co-ops work together to support and supply independent, locally-owned Indigenous gas bars.
“We believe that co-operative and Indigenous values are aligned,” says Roger Korte, director of Petroleum Sales and Marketing at FCL. “We recognized an opportunity to expand our existing relationships with Indigenous partners through an exclusive Western Nations gas bar brand and developed the concept in collaboration with consultants and Indigenous groups across the west to ensure it was respectful of Indigenous culture and beneficial to Indigenous communities.”
FCL’s history is based on forming relationships and working together in finding a solution as part of one system. It’s about creating self-reliance, supporting one another, and building an economic engine. The Western Nations brand, which took over a year to develop, is the next evolution of FCL’s journey.
“It’s really part of our support for reconciliation that we’re reaching out from a prosperity perspective and wanting to partner together in meaningful engagement,” says Pam Skotnitsky, vice‑president of Strategy at FCL. “The Western Nations brand is modern, unique, respectful of Indigenous culture and relevant to all customers.”
The Western Nations brand includes a logo and several benefits. The logo draws inspiration from Western Canada’s landscape and features rich ochre that represents the Prairies; a snow-capped mountain in the centre to represent the Rockies; a large blue letter “W” to represent the sky, moving wind and abstract aurora borealis; and two red triangles as anchor points that represents the fuel supplied from the earth, as well as the connection and support supplied by FCL.
“During the consultation process, some stakeholders wanted the brand to feature more traditional Indigenous symbols while others wanted a more modern approach,” says Korte. “The brand we developed hopefully is a balanced blend of the two.”
Korte adds that the greatest benefit from the collaborative process behind the brand was the creation of a comprehensive program with different levels of capacity that can be tailored to achieve long-term success.
The Western Nations brand can be applied to both existing gas bar locations or new construction. In order to be a Western Nations branded facility, the sites must be on Indigenous, Metis, or Inuit land and qualify for the minimum volume and brand requirements. Locations in a state of disrepair would not be eligible. The goal is to work with Indigenous partners to create a brand image that all stakeholders can be proud of across western Canada.
- Facility design – For new locations, Co-op can offer support to help plan and build gas bars and convenience stores through pre-existing designs or customization to meet local needs. Also available are competitive grants to enhance and upgrade equipment and maintain appearance.
- Brand association – Western Nations gas bars are fuelled by Co-op, a heritage brand with high-quality products that customers have trusted for generations.
- Uniforms – Co-op can provide help in supplying and funding team member uniforms.
- Management assistance – In some situations, the local Co-op may be able to provide operational management support.
- Additional support – FCL offers attractive debit and credit card fees; convenience-store program support (including an Indigenous-owned coffee brand) and financial assistance, including help with annual maintenance costs, subsidized uniforms, and promotional advertising support.
“All Western Nations accounts are supported by the local Co-op in their area,” says Korte. “This structure allows for relevant and timely support of their existing business operations, drawing on Co-op’s long-term success in retailing.”
An affiliation to Co-op’s Indigenous Gas Bar Program would also be available to Indigenous communities that already operate their own gas bars but don’t want to adopt the brand name, or don’t qualify based on fuel volumes or do not meet the minimum image/size requirements but wish to have Co-op supply the fuel. As an Indigenous reseller, most of the benefits would still apply, including the Community Assistance Building Program – the most unique feature of the Western Nations brand.
Community support is an important value of local Co-ops across western Canada. Through the Community Assistance Building Program, Co-op provides funding that communities can direct to community infrastructure, programming, and events. The amount to be allocated is based on fuel sales.
“The Community Assistance Building Program is one of the important appeals of what we’re offering,” says Skotnitsky. “The ability to recognize the benefits of the business and reinvest in the community it serves is what resonates really well. The local communities will determine how they guide those dollars to gain maximum benefit for their community.”
All sites within the Western Nations brand would be independently owned and operated, which allows for flexibility in operating the business. As an added measure of support to maintain individuality, within the Western Nations brand standards, considerations may be made to incorporate a unique design or logo specific to the Indigenous community.
“Our experience goes beyond operating gas bars, selling gasoline and diesel,” says Korte. “We have experience with a complete offering of convenience store items, lubricants, propane service, and carwash – which may all be part of the Western Nations brand in the future. We are developing ways to further enhance this program, offerings and customer experience, and are open to feedback from Indigenous communities to further our partnership into other lines of business.”
While still in its infancy, the Western Nations brand is gaining momentum. Relationships take time and this program is, as they say, a journey and not a destination.
For more information or to join the Western Nations brand, interested parties are encouraged reach out to their local Co-op or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at www.mlbcomms.ca