Welcome to our occasional musings on all things co-op. The views expressed here do not represent the official work of Food Co-op Initiative or any other organization. We hope that they are thought provoking, informative and possibly even humorous.

  • December 4, 2012

    Our co-op has weathered the trials of stage one organizing and done some initial feasibility work. Now we are forming a site selection committee. Do you have or know of any resources that help define this process and the scope of work that this committee should be looking to achieve?

    Forming a site selection committee is one of the most fun parts for volunteers – it seems like everyone wants to play a role in determining where the store should be.

    You’ll probably get a ton of suggestions, and most of them will not be suitable. How do you keep from being overwhelmed by uninformed public opinion? The committee should first develop criteria for evaluating potential sites. Then you can take everyone's suggestions enthusiastically, and rest assured that the unsuitable ones will be weeded out by the process.

    There are some great guides on how to develop criteria.  Check out our market research and choosing a location webinars.

    The next step will be doing a very thorough canvass of possible sites in the community. In my experience, most groups at first err on the side of thinking too concretely, which limits their vision. Yes, it's a gas station (or an empty lot) today, but in two years with $3 million dollars, it might be the store of your dreams.

    One word of caution: discussion of possible sites needs to be kept confidential.

    • Building owners have been known to suddenly up the price on that vacant building, once they knew the co-op was interested.  (A developer or commercial real estate agent can help negotiate on your behalf to prevent this.)
    • Sites fall through, and getting your member-owners' hearts set on a site is a recipe for frustration, and the perception that a "set back" has happened.
    • A competitor, once they know that the site is suitable for a natural foods store, may decide to put one in faster than you can.  It's happened.
    • For whatever reason, you may later learn more information and reconsider which site is your primary choice.  You're free to do that until you sign a lease... unless you've already set the expectation with members.  Then it gets tricky.

    At a certain point, the site selection committee members (and of course the board) will be privileged with the most valuable information the co-op has.  It's good to think about "an inner core" on that committee that finalizes the process, if you have a large committee that begins it.  I would set the expectation early that there will be some secrets about the site list, and why.  Members are generally fine with that, when they know the reasons.  And it's okay for the board to go into executive session when they're discussing sites.

    Once the lease-with-contingencies has been signed, everyone gets to find out.  It's a great idea to have a party to celebrate, since it will have been a big secret up to then (hopefully).  If suitable, have the party on the site -- that's always a great member recruitment device, or a great kick-off to the member loan campaign.  No vision is more concrete than the actual site!

  • September 10, 2012
    Bonnie Hudspeth
    Bonnie Hudspeth, former Project Manager at Monadnock Food Co-op, now Membership & Outreach Coordinator with the Neighboring Food Co-op Association.

    "I support Food Co-op Initiative because they supported us." - Bonnie Hudspeth

    Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, New Hampshire will open its doors in the first part of 2013, after a four-year-long journey. Food Co-op Initiative will have been with them every step of the way.

    "At the very beginning, we were able to educate ourselves about the start-up process using the Food Co-op Initiative toolbox."

    Food Co-op Initiative is focused on providing free services to start-ups, providing crucial early-stage professional expertise before new co-ops are able to raise money.

    "It's very challenging at the beginning stages—which some folks may not make it out of—to get support without paying a boatload of money." 

    We write tutorials, record online webinars, and speak with start-ups by phone, email, and online video. We train start-up organizers at regional conferences and one-on-one. We provide a welcome to new organizers and introduce them to other critical sources of support in the food co-op community.

    In 2011, Food Co-op Initiative awarded a $10,000 Seed Grant to Monadnock. The funds paid for interior design work, but the real benefit was in site visits and in-person consulting.

    Since co-ops are not 501(c)3 non-profits, our Seed Grant program is one of the few grants most co-ops are eligible for. In 2011, 13 start-ups applied to Food Co-op Initiative for Seed Grant support. In 2012, 31 start-ups applied.

    "It's crucial to have support and consulting that you don't have to pay for. Open co-ops need to know that." 

    Help us support the growing wave of new food co-op organizing.

  • May 15, 2012

    A start-up food co-op organizer emailed me recently to ask,

    I'm wondering if you can help me know how co-op members pay their shares in other co-ops?

    We're looking at this model:

    • $300 full share purchase
    • $50 annual contribution toward share purchase
    • $12.50 quarterly contribution toward annual contribution toward full share purchase. (Does this seem like too much micro management? Too complicated? If not, when a member joins, do they get pro-rated into the current quarter, or does their quarter begin when they join?)

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Here are my thoughts:

    If the co-op doesn't need its full equity for six years, does it really need to set the equity share price at $300 per member?

    If the co-op needs $300 per member (and most brick and mortar co-ops these days are setting equity between $200 and $300), I would think that the co-op would need it within a one year period at most.  $25/month is not uncommon or, for most members, unreasonable.  $50/quarter is another option, for payment over 1.5 years.  If you have members with exigent financial circumstances that you don't want to exclude, then perhaps you could have a more flexible payment plan that is not widely available.

    My concern would be that the co-op could be creating a moral hazard, by essentially incentivizing new members to minimize their contributions and let other members take the risk.  That seems like a formula for slow growth, as well as unhappiness within the membership.

    Another possibility to assist in rapid growth, especially if you don't need the capital right away, is to use pledges for the first 200 or 300 members.  E.g. potential members can pledge that, when organizers have successfully recruited 200 pledged members, called a meeting to approve bylaws and elect the first board, they will come through with their membership payment within one week of that meeting.  This can reduce the risk borne by early adopters (and therefore incentivize people to be early adopters.)  

    Have you done a market study yet?  Another great idea I heard from one of the co-ops we work with is asking each of the first 200 members to only pay the first $50 on their membership, so that a professional market study could be done with the funds.  If the market study returns bad news, everyone loses $50, rather than some people losing their full $300.  If the market study comes back with good news, as expected, then they can ask everyone to continue with their membership payments.

    My question for readers: How does your co-op manage its member equity needs without creating barriers to early adoption?

  • May 10, 2012

    Just submitted my workshop description for this year's CCMA conference -- 

    Organize More Effectively: Use Internet Technology

    What would our membership recruitment goals look like, viewed as an online campaign? How can we use online tools and social media to help accomplish our real-world goals like recruitment, volunteer empowerment, and member engagement?

    In this hands-on workshop, we'll be looking at the strategy behind online campaigns, and how to prepare, execute, and evaluate your own. You'll learn to employ powerful tools like Nation Builder, Twitter, and Facebook in service to your co-op's outreach goals, so please bring a laptop. Participants are asked to RSVP to so that he can prepare accounts and send a brief assessment survey in advance (walk-ins still welcome).
    Sound interesting?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, or send me an email.  Thanks!
  • September 21, 2010

    Take a look at these and the many other tools available throughout the site!

    • A presentation on Effective and Accountable Organizing Teams
      Look under "Governance" or click here>>
    • A slide show on Marketing Strategies for Start-Ups
      Filed under"Resources" Click here >>
    • Photos of Co-op signage, member outreach and logos
       Filed with "Photos" Click here >>
    • An excellent research paper on Co-op Grocery Stores and the Triple Bottom Line, by Allison Riemer on the FAQ page. Click here>>
  • June 3, 2010

    Here it is!—the new and improved web site for co-op start-ups. If you came here looking for Food Co-op 500, you are not lost. FC500 set the stage for our new non-profit foundation, Food Co-op Initiative. This new web site contains almost everything that was here before but we have tried to expand it, sort it, and otherwise improve it for your researching pleasure. You will also find new sections of resources and opportunities to share your best ideas with other co-ops. Feedback is welcome! Let us know what works, what does not, what is missing and what you would like to share.


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