Co-op Education: 4 Cornerstones in 3 Stages

4-cornerstonesAs discussed in Octobers Annual Owners meeting, we just moved from Stage 2A Feasibility to Stage 2B Planning, based on the Food Co-op Initiative Development Model (4 Cornerstones in 3 Stages) developed by CDS Consulting Co-op that we’re following to get our store open. This gives us a framework to see what is needed as we move along the development process, from the Vision, Talent, Capital, and Systems, and the milestones we need to meet along the way to ensure a successful store.

The Cornerstones (4)

Vision – why we’re starting the Co-op.  The Assabet Village Co-op Market is an initiative to open a community-owned, full-service grocery store in Maynard, MA serving the MetroWest region. The mission of Assabet Village Co-op Market is to: be a center of community activity; support the regional food system; strengthen the local economy; and promote the well-being of our Members, our community, and the environment. http://assabetvillage.coop/about/our-vision/

Talent – who is invested in the success of the coop? First off, if you’re reading this post, you’re one of those people! Talent comes in many forms.

  • Be an advocate – Word of mouth is big piece in getting people to know about the Co-op
  • Volunteer! We have many volunteer positions available, both talking to prospective Owners as well as behind the scenes. We have monthly Outreach & Volunteer committee meetings open to all.  http://assabetvillage.coop/community/volunteer/
  • The Board of Directors – the Board has a fiduciary duty, given the authority to govern the Co-op on behalf of the Owners. This is where a lot of the high-level planning and strategy occurs. You can “meet” the current board here: http://assabetvillage.coop/about/board-of-directors/

Capital – what are the financial resources needed to get the doors open? As usual – it starts with you, the Owners – your Ownership equity gives us the foundation, not only as capital but as a show of support in the community to outside investors when we look to secure outside loans & additional financing. See our post on Sources & Uses for more information.

Systems – what methods are we following to ensure success in opening the store? Systems include legal, governing, planning and assessment, communication, marketing, finance and accounting, and operations. We hold insurance for the board, file our taxes yearly.

  • For an example on governance, we have bi-monthly Board meetings, where we’re chosen to follow a consensus method for decision-making. This is outlined in section “4.12 Voting” in our By-Laws (http://assabetvillage.coop/about/by-laws/).
  • The clerk takes meeting minutes, which are then reviewed by the board prior to the following meeting in order to ensure consensus on the discussions & any decisions made during the meetings.
  • Some of these systems include tools we use to facilitate conduction business. Quickbooks for accounting. Google Docs for file collaboration. e-Mail and Slack for board communications. Standard Operating Procedures adopted to ensure we’re following a standard process.

The Stages (3)

Stage 1: Organizing! The cornerstones are evident here – a person or group of people (Talent) share a common idea or need (Vision). To facilitate creating the organization this is when a community interest survey is taken, the steering committee is formed and the Co-op is incorporated (Systems), and the membership equity structure is set & the member drive started (Capital). For Assabet Village Co-op Market, this started in February 2012, when a group of 4 people met with the idea of starting a food co-op in Maynard. The Co-op was incorporated in the state of Massachusetts in June 2013 and officially started accepting members in October of 2013.

Stage 2: Feasibility & Planning. Stage 2 is broken up into 2 parts, and our co-op is currently in 2B: Planning.

  • Stage 2A: Feasibility brings full assessments of market feasibility, financial feasibility, and organizational readiness/capacity.  In June of 2015, our Market Study was completed with favorable results for our store based on an analysis of our trade area. We completed our financial feasibility & organizational readiness in September, and the board unanimously voted to move to Stage 2B Planning on September 26, 2016!  These highlights and all the other work going on behind the scenes is moving us forward in the process to get the doors open!
  • Stage 2B: Planning comes about when we have determined that the project has the full market, financial and organization capacity to move forward. The planning phase brings the development of the business plan around finance and operations. This gets the framework into place for securing a site!  It should be noted that while there are milestones set for each of these phases, there are steps that can start earlier on, such as working with developers to find potential sites, and speaking with potential lenders.  

Stage 3: Implementation. Moving from Stage 2 to 3 is the first of the two big decision milestones, where we have a site secured with contingencies.

  • Stage 3A: Pre-construction is where we really start moving forward – sign & facility design, development bids and financing. Getting all these steps finalized brings us to removing our site contingencies and moving forward to…
  • Stage 3B: Construction & Renovation! Getting the store built or renovated, equipment purchased, working with suppliers etc.
  • Stage 3C: Preparation for Opening is getting staffed, marketing, membership program planning (Member cards!), all the things needed to get the doors open!
  • Stage 3D: Sustaining: community, great products, happy owners!

Underlying all these stages is the need for member growth, even with the framework in place we need the ability to show lenders and developers the interest in the community for our project to move forward. If you haven’t become an Owner yet, join today! Or if you are an Owner, tell your friends & neighbors. We can’t do this without you!