Featured Member: Peninsula Co-op

By: Danielle Leroux

Peninsula Co-op is a Vancouver Island co-operative, owner of PenCo Liquor stores, and the new owner of seven Liquor Express retail locations.

In September, the company made a bold move in diversification and strengthened its position in BC’s liquor industry, officially acquiring seven Liquor Express stores and growing its liquor business portfolio to nine stores.

Community-Based and Member-Owned

Peninsula Co-op has its core business in grocery, liquor, petroleum, and convenience stores and operates from Greater Victoria to Duncan as well as in Comox and Campbell River. It proudly supports the community and economy, employing more than 400 full-time and part-time employees.

With roots dating back nearly 60 years, the business is uniquely guided and owned by more than 116,000 member owners. Last year, nearly $8 million was returned in rebates to Co-op members.

Demonstrating its strong ties to local communities, Peninsula Co-op also donates half a million dollars every year to local charities, organizations, youth groups, student scholarships, and community projects through its Community Fund.

Strengthening Retail Liquor Presence

In August, Peninsula Co-op announced it would be acquiring seven Liquor Express stores located in Victoria, Saanich, View Royal, Saanichton, Esquimalt, and Nanaimo. Its existing PenCo Liquor Stores are located in Saanich and Langford.

Photo of Corey Gillon by Douglas Magazine

The acquisition was finalized in September. It offered an unprecedented growth opportunity for Peninsula Co-op and aligned with its strategy to diversify operations, while continuing to serve its community.

“While valuing our origins as a community-based member-owned organization, we are thrilled to expand our footprint of retail liquor locations,” says Corey Gillon, CEO of Peninsula Co-op. “Undoubtedly, this transaction signifies a shift that supports the scaling of our existing retail platform and enables us to continue on the path of increased presence in the retail liquor sector.”

Strategic Plan to Diversify

Gillon came on as CEO in November 2022. Prior to Peninsula Co-op, he most recently served as CEO of a retail start-up Choom, which he built and led to its sale. While he hasn’t specifically worked in liquor, he has more than 25 years of experience in senior executive retail roles with companies such as Walmart and Aritzia.

Gillon understands and values the positive impact a local retail organization can have on the community it serves. This in part comes from his experience at Walmart as he relocated to various communities and became an integral fixture in those neighbourhoods.

“Gillon understands and values the positive impact a local retail organization can have on the community it serves.”

When he came on board at Peninsula Co-op, Gillon took the business through a robust strategic planning process. “We looked at who we are, what we are, and where we want to be in the next 3-5 years. What really rung high was a continued focus on diversification,” he says. “Our core business has predominantly been grocery, fuel, and convenience, but we had dipped our toes in the liquor business. We realized that we wanted to do more of that in the future and scale that business.”

The company looked at multiple acquisition opportunities on the geographic and strategic level. “Liquor Express lined up well and it is where we want to be positioned in the marketplace,” Gillon says. “The acquisition was really important to give us some scale for a store count and put us in the driver’s seat.”

Benefits of Co-op Model

Positioned for growth, Gillon believes their unique co-op model will be a driver of their liquor business success. Peninsula is one of three significant co-ops in the province, the others being Mid Island Co-op and Otter Co-op.

Courtesy of Liquor Express

“The co-op model and our relationship with member owners is a big piece in our unique proposition,” Gillon explains. “We put a significant focus on service and on community. It comes back in loyalty from our member owners. The member rebate is a unique proposition to the liquor business.”

Their product assortment, customer offering, and strong team also set Peninsula Co-op liquor stores apart. “The products at our stores are set up in a way that we have an offering for each type of customer—whether it be a premium or value customer. We are also always focused on elevating training, the servicing of people, and general operations.”

Future Plans

Prior to the acquisition, PenCo Liquor was relatively small and the company fell into the independent size of businesses. Today, they are positioned as a significant player.

Courtesy of Liquor Express

The next several months will be focused on integrating the two companies, PenCo Liquor and Liquor Express. “We are in the midst of integration and all the pieces that come with entering a new business. We have had a large amount of new team members come in,” Gillon notes. The company retained existing team members from the acquired locations and their workforce has grown by about 25%.

Peninsula Co-op also plans to look at the unification and elevation of the brands overall, with a potential name change in the future. The Liquor Express stores have kept their names for the time being.

“Our future plans for the liquor stores include a lot of integration to take place both from the people perspective and an operational standpoint—improving operations, assortment planning, and the pricing model,” Gillon says.

Courtesy of Liquor Express

“The really exciting part for me as CEO is seeing us now at some level of scale and looking at where we are going to position ourselves in the marketplace. I am excited by our people and the energy that is around these two brands coming together. It feels a bit like a start-up. We are focused on how we are going to build a really strong brand that unifies these two businesses and ultimately elevates them,” Gillon adds.

Not Done Growing

But Peninsula Co-op isn’t stopping here. “We are not done,” Gillon says. “We are still looking to be a consolidator in some places, mostly in BC and with one or two stores at a time or larger packages. Pre- and post-transaction announcement, we have had folks reaching out to us about possible acquisitions—independent and multiple store chains. Relationships have led to those conversations.”

With a focus on community, their members, and growth, it will be exciting to see where Peninsula Co-op goes next.