Here in New Zealand, food co-ops capture the spirit of what the nation is all about. Not only do they support the local economy, but they also discourage food waste and provide locals with a platform to purchase healthy, organic and sustainable produce. At a fantastic price, of course. And most importantly, they bring together communities by creating a place where the customer is also the owner. Now that’s a business model we can get behind.
At their core co-ops exist to empower members which means that ultimately, everyone benefits. So how can you start your very own co-op movement?
Define your mission
First things first, be clear about why your co-op exists. Are you creating it to save members money on everyday produce? Do you want to bolster the community, or actively work to minimise your impact on the environment by purchasing locally? Maybe you want to make it easier for people to access fresh, organic produce? Whatever your goals, it’s important to identify your purpose as it will serve as the foundation of everything you do.
Next, you’ll need to start recruiting members to help with the initial planning stage. As well as close family and friends, you should also get the wider community involved by putting up posters or publishing an ad in your local community newspaper. Your core group of people should be as dedicated and passionate as you are and ideally, hail from a range of different industries. For example, accountants can help with finance, lawyers can navigate red tape and artists can work on marketing material.
Spread the word
Once you’ve set up the basic business model a great way to kickstart your co-op is to hold an informal meeting. This gives your community a chance to find out more about the co-op, familiarise themselves with the benefits and ask any questions they may have. Don’t forget to advertise the meeting everywhere you can as you want to garner as much interest as possible. If you’re spokesperson you’ll need to be prepared to explain exactly what a co-op is and why yours exists. If you need inspiration simply refer back to your original goals.
These days a website is a pivotal part of running a successful business, or in this case co-op. With platforms like Weebly designing your own website is surprisingly easy, however, if you’re not tech savvy you can always ask for help or recruit a professional. Remember, many people will turn to the internet to learn more about their local co-op so it’s important to make information available to them.
Location, location, location
One of the biggest questions you’ll need to answer is where your co-op will be based. Renting a space will be your single biggest cost, second only to buying inventory. If you’re serious you can look into renting on your local high street, or if you’re more of a casual co-op you could run it out of your own garage. You’ll also need to think about who’s going to run the co-op, and whether you’ll have extras like a coffee machine, fridge, air conditioning and so on.
As well as initial membership fees, it’s also worth doing a little research to find out if there are any co-op grants or community initiatives available in your local area. These can help assist with early start up fees and get your co-op on its feet.
Once you’ve dealt with the nitty gritty it’s time to get started on the fun stuff. Purchasing inventory is incredibly rewarding and will be the heart and soul of your co-op. Start by chatting to local farmers and food producers in your area and building meaningful relationships. This will help you source the best quality produce, at the best possible prices. Additionally, you’ll need to continually check in with members to make sure you’re purchasing the products they want and need. As your co-op grows your inventory will expand and evolve, which is incredibly exciting.
Do you have experience running a co-op, or are you part of an organisation that you love? We’re always interested in our reader stories, so please share in the comments box below!