5 Essentials for Your Co-op Website

You website is the world’s window to your co-op. Whether you are  a new startup with 100 members or an established one with 10,000, giving your site a regular once-over can help build traffic and interest in your startup or store.  You may have an elaborate site, a simple Facebook page, or both. It doesn’t take a major overhaul on either to keep your site on track. Open your site/s and check  for these five things right now!

  1. 5-website-essentialsIt quickly defines who you are what what you are doing. Be sure your site says you are working towards a RETAIL FOOD CO-OP.,Share how a COOPERATIVE business model is different. Tell why this is important for your group and your community. Startup committee members may be too involved with co-op organizing to remember that total strangers may find your site and want to understand just what is going on here. Sharing your vision and process in a clear way is vital.
  2. It tells people where you are, and how to reach you. This may sound obvious, but here at FCI we look at lots of co-op sites everyday. About one-quarter of them do not show the city and state they are located in. Even more use contact forms and never list an email address, or phone number. Be sure your “contact” area is not just a form, but also lists an email address for people who want to use it. Most startups do not yet have a location, but they have a town, county, state, zip code—something to tell people that they are in Springfield KY, not Springfield MO or FL.  At the very least, show an email address and your city and state in your footer or”about” area.  Better yet, get a PO Box and share that—it tells people you are a real entity in the community and they can reach out to you.
  3. Cfancyelebrate your ownership numbers. Nothing tells people that you are serious about building this co-op more than showing how your ownership is growing. Prominently showing your numbers, and keeping them current, lets prospective member/owners know that they are important to launching the co-op. It tells future lenders you are proving your ability to grow. This can be a simple text box stating “As of October  31, 2016, we are 321 owners strong.” Or it can be a fancy graphic showing your goal and where you stand this week. Keep the design easy to update.
  4. Show your co-op status with a .COOP domain. Don’t wait. Do it now. Only available for cooperative businesses, it puts you clearly in the co-op world. It shows you support the cooperative principles. It tells your community that you are community owned. It may even be less expensive than a dot com for you. Many startups shoot for a dot org in the beginning, but that domain is intended for nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations and charities. As a retail food co-op you will be a business working towards making a profit, and usually that profit will either be turned back into the business or shared with the owners. Extremely few co-ops operate on a truly nonprofit model, and they are usually partially supported by a nonprofit or charitable agency. . Check out our blog post  5 Reasons You Should be a coop from the beginning, and reach out to the author of that post to get started.
  5. silverton-membersThink like a produce manager—Keep It Fresh!  Show you are an active group serious about bringing a retail food co-op to your community. Seeing membership numbers that are seven months old or a Facebook page that has not had a post in over a month can turn potential owners away pretty fast. Check your links—clicking on your website link in Facebook and winding up on  an Error 404 page will chase people away. Update everything on a regular schedule. Share info and tidbits to keep your audience excited. Make your web presence your best tool for keeping your  community informed on your process and progress.

Your website is THE best way to get the word out as you grow! For more ideas check out the resources on our website and webinar series for marketing, membership, and branding

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Helpful Partners: Engaging Members & Local Producers/Businesses

By SaraBeth Drybread of Columbus Food Co-op

columbus-logo

The staff at FCI knows that the task of opening a new retail food co-op requires many partners. The sheer volume of things to do can sometimes overwhelm even the best startup team. We want to share this story of using community partners to build success, and how startups might benefit from Helpful Partners.

Columbus Food Co-op in Columbus, Indiana knows that the vendors and providers they wish to feature in the store can be their best helpers in promoting the co-op. Presently they are in the implementation stage, they have worked with many producers to bring more value to owner-members even before the store opens. While building excitement for the co-op, they are growing strong relationships with these wonderful partners. SaraBeth Drybread shares two great examples with us and shows how it is a win-win for all parties. Our thanks to SaraBeth and Columbus Food Co-op for sharing their own Helpful Partners with us. For more information about Columbus Food Co-op, email info@columbusmarket.coop.  Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

“Before the Store Perks”

benefits-posterRelationships, relationships, relationships! That’s the co-op difference, right? As a startup, it’s important to keep owner-members engaged and feel like they’re benefiting from the time they join your co-op, especially since the process will be long. The co-op’s relationship with local producers and businesses is also key to growth and establishing yourself as an ally.

Our co-op offered “Before the Store Perks” at our farmer’s market. We reached out to local vendors (many of whom were owner-members) and asked them to offer a benefit to owners at the market.

Here are some examples:

  • Nightfall Farm: 10% off pastured chicken
  • Soapy Soap Co.: $2 off essential oils
  • Indiana Craft Jerky: $2 off bag of jerky
  • Fleming Family Beef: 10% off purchase

soapysoapsocialmediaThe co-op provided the following:

  • Poster for participating vendor to display at the farmer’s market
  • Owner-member Benefits Cards
  • Link to vendor on social media, newsletters, website
  • Weekly highlights of participating vendors & benefits
  • Mentions on bi-weekly radio morning show where we have a spot

The goal was to show our support and introduce new customers to these local vendors and increase our membership because everyone loves to get a discount!

We had owner-members pick up benefits card our booth which was a great way to engage with them and make sure they were up-to-date on our progress. Are you reading the newsletter? Do you follow us on Facebook? Have any questions?

Sponsor Buy Local Week

Another way to build relationships with local businesses is to sponsor a Buy Local Week (BLW), much like Small Business Saturday. This was one of our earliest initiatives and helped connect us with like-minded business leaders. We got a few fellow sponsors (bank, insurance company, community center) and participating businesses offered a discount to customers and the co-op did the rest.

The co-op:

  • Created index-sized cards with participating business logos on the back
  • Put Buy Local Week window decals in participating businesses
  • Created posters with info and list of businesses and placed all around town
  • Bought an add in the newspaper
  • Heavily publicized on social media, newsletters, website

buylocalweekcardThe BLW index cards were passed out at the Farmer’s Market, a couple of restaurants put them in with people’s checks, and we put stacks in some of the businesses. People would take a card during BLW to a participating business for the incentive and get the logo initialed on the back. At the end of the week we had a big ice-cream social and gave away door prizes to people who participated and turned in their cards.

This was open to everyone, not just owner-members. All the promotional materials had the co-op logo, website, and social media contacts on them, so it was a great way to build awareness.

Keep reaching out to local growers/producers and businesses.

They are your greatest ambassadors! Growers who have small stores and/or participate in the Farmer’s Market might see the co-op as competition instead of growth potential as another outlet for their goods. This is where education and impact stories from existing co-ops is crucial. Check out the Impact Report from Common Ground Food Co-op, or the Annual Reports from River Valley Market and communicate that type of local sales growth to your membership and potential vendors. One of our market vendors had their best week ever when they offered the discount to owner-members!

Now is the time to start lasting relationships. Do what you can to build your relationships with local growers because they’re your suppliers, customers, investors, and champions for owner growth. Stronger. Together.

FCI: Why We Like This: This type of cooperative community building can excite vendors and show them that owner-members are serious about supporting local producers. It also gives owners a tangible benefit of joining, and joining early—before the store opens. A new retail food co-op’s success can hinge on this type of partnership between co-op, members, and producers. 

5 Reasons Your Domain Should Be .coop from the beginning

Thomas Bowen loves startup co-ops. True, he loves all co-ops, but the energy and enthusiasm of startup groups brings a big smile to his face.

Thomas is the director of member relations for National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA, and wants to see every new retail food co-op succeed as part of the greater cooperative community. Contact him at tbowen@ncba.coop to share your story, and see how a .coop domain makes sense for your future co-op.

In his words, here are 5 reasons your co-op should be using a .coop domain:

In the beginning . . . your co-op should be a .coop because:

5 reasons1—There are coops. There are also co-ops. Coops are for chickens. Co-ops are for members. Imagine the conversation and educational opportunities you have when giving people your website or email address. Principle 5 of the 7 cooperative principles is about education and information. Inform people who you are and what your store will be with your .coop domain. Tell them how different you are from the other places that may sell similar products.

2.coop domains are unique. They are ONLY available to verified cooperative businesses. Cooperatives are unique businesses–why be lumped into all the coms, nets and orgs of the world. Show your pride and uniqueness! You work hard to show your difference–flaunt it. Plus, the process of verification shows trust and value. You can become a trusted resource for members. You know that group that sells similar products? They can’t have a .coop domain and how many consumers trust them?

3—With your .coop, you get a free gift. They ran out of toasters, so instead you get use of the Cooperative Marque–a unique identifier that is a trust mark for you members and customers. This marque is used exclusively by cooperative business around the world. Yes, your “little co-op” now has international appeal and is in good company. That other place . . . no Marque for you! But wait, there’s more. Act now and you can get your first year of a .coop domain FREE.free

4—Sure, it is a little bit more expensive than the other domain alternatives–but this is about your brand and what makes you different from XYZ Grocer. It is a marketing expense. Ask yourself how much marketing you will get for the cost of a .coop domain? (I’ll tell you, not much.) Then what kind of marketing do you want for the cost of another domain type? (I’ll tell you, not much.)

5—If you are thinking you will add the .coop when you open the cooperative, we will say sure, you can do that–but why? Why go about changing your marketing material ($)? Why go about retraining the staff and members? Why worry about forwarding and redirecting emails and web pages and hope that it works when you change? Have no fear, already have your “other domain” (no judgment from me–none)? We can help make redirecting your .com, .org. or .net. This could be one of the easiest decisions you have to make in starting a cooperative, well, except having FCI help you with the startup process.

Why FCI likes this: It is easy for startup groups to think of themselves as volunteer or non-profit type organizations that are struggling to start a cooperative grocery store. But, just as with any startup business in any field, you are starting a real business! You are starting a retail grocery store that, in a few years, could easily be handing a sales volume of over a million dollars. You do not want your members and community come to think of you as that little .org group that wants a co-op. You want them to believe in the goal—a new retail food co-op in your community that welcomes everyone to shop. Every effort you make to show that you are serious about your goal can help move you ahead. Thomas makes a great point with number five—it is expensive to change all your marketing and such later. (Also, when you are ready to hire a general manager, NCBA is the best place to post your job listing and reach a great set of talent.)

Helpful Partners: Donated Marketing Rocks!

By Dennis Rosenblum of Bay City Cooperative
 bay city
The staff at FCI knows that the path to opening a new retail food co-op is rarely a straight line. The sheer volume of things to do can sometimes overwhelm even the best startup team. We want to share this story of using community business partners to build success, and how startups might benefit from Helpful Partners.
Bay City Cooperative Market in Bay CIty, Michigan needed to build a great website to market their startup. They reached out to the local community and got professional work donations to help. This donation of service also has supported their promotional efforts.  Our thanks to Dennis Rosenblum from Bay CIty for sharing a bit about their own Helpful Partners with us. For more information about Bay CIty Cooperative Market, email info@baycityfood.org  Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at info@fci.coop.

It’s an inevitable conundrum: You need to get the word out about your budding co-op and convince people to put up money as members. And to do that, you should look like you know what you’re doing. But you don’t have the money to pay for professional media services. What to do?

One solution, as we’ve found out, is to just ask.

Sure, we could have come up with a website ourselves. There are even free web services that look good.

Instead, we asked a local design firm for free help. The response? They actually seemed honored that we’d asked. As they put it on Facebook: “Every once in a while, we have the privilege of taking on a project to help improve the community where we live. The Bay City Food Cooperative is one of those projects.”

And what we got (check out baycityfood.org) was much more than we’d have come up with ourselves.

Later, when we saw that some other co-ops had great promotional videos, we decided to rip off—rather, to borrow—their idea. So we asked a local videographer for free help. His response? Sure, he’d do it—and so would various co-op supporters who didn’t hesitate to talk enthusiastically on camera.

 

Bay City Video

See the video on the website!

A month later, we had a great video that quickly scored thousands of views and created lots of buzz about the co-op.

Along the way, a printer provided us with promotional rack cards for free. And when we needed to book a hotel for a market consultant coming to town, we didn’t get a free room—but we did get a nice discount.

In every case, all we had to do was ask.

There’s more.

When we went looking for prizes to award in membership drives, we looked to friends and co-op supporters who have businesses. Again, no problem. People were eager to help.

Are we just lucky? Do we have some secret sauce? Do we have a town full of particularly cooperative people? Probably not.

Two points that may be obvious but are worth remembering:

1. Make sure you’re clear on what the gift covers. For instance, if it’s from a mechanic, is it a free tune-up or a gift certificate good for anything? You don’t want winners to end up feeling like they got scammed.

2. Give the donor some publicity in return. When you promote a prize drawing, mention the business and its address or website. When the prize is awarded, take a picture of the donor and the winner together for your Facebook and/or blog posting.

Looking back, we’ve made some mistakes as we work toward getting a co-op up and running. We’ll probably make more. But recognizing when we can use help and asking for it isn’t a mistake at all. Really, the worst that can happen is that someone says no.

The support we’ve received affirms our belief that a food co-op would be a great addition to our city. It’s reassuring to discover that others see it that way, too—and that they’re willing to help. It brings more people into the fold. It saves us money that we can better use down the road.

If we were corporate-type people, we’d have some roll-your-eyes term to describe the power of asking for help—thinking outside the box, a win-win, leveraging or some goofy thing.

We’re not, so we don’t do that. We just think it makes sense. In a cooperative way.

FCI: Why We Like This:  A co-op is more than a grocery store, it is a members of a community. Reaching out to other community businesses who support a better, healthier, and more democratic vibe in the community is a great idea!  You may not always find free help, but discounts, great advice, and you will build relationships within your town that will prove valuable for years to come. You save dollars, but the gains from making these connections can go far beyond that!
FCI: And A Note on Donations and Taxation:  Talk to your tax accountant and/or legal advisor before agreeing to these projects. In most cases, retail food co-ops are not charitable or tax-exempt. Donations made to a co-op are usually considered taxable “in-kind” income and will need supporting paperwork for the IRS. The donating company may not be able to claim a tax deduction for doing this work.  Be sure both you and your potential partners have an understanding of this. Many partners  want to support you anyway, and are not concerned, but take the time to get the facts for your own records.