Survival Issues

As this issue of Cooperative Grocer was being prepared for the printer, word arrived of the closing of Starflower Natural Foods & Botanicals in Eugene, Oregon. Their services will be missed by many. Starflower was a worker owned cooperative distributor which served retails in the Northwest from the early 1970s. They also, in the past year, were a sponsor of Cooperative Grocer and provided strong support for this publication among their customers. We will try to fill the publication distribution gap for those stores.

During the past year, Starflower struggled to put their business on a more sound financial footing, and some general features of their story illustrate problems faced by many other cooperatives as well. Starflower's position in their region was increasingly pressured by competitor distributors, including other cooperatives. Increasingly over the years, it was efficiencies of operation, service level, and price which determined customer loyalty, much more than their cooperative structure. Starflower was built on a strong political (feminist) base which minimized member wages and investment while concentrating assets in ownership of their warehouse building. Eventually finding this legacy to be inadequate for survival, they attempted to refinance the business; the building was sold and leased back, and members were required to commit to a greatly increased level of investment. But these measures were too little, too late.

The weaknesses of many food co-ops' treatment of their capital needs are explored further in this issue of Cooperative Grocer. Up to this time, the topic of member ownership has received scant treatment in these pages. But too many cooperatives, especially retails, have floundered or failed from having inadequate capital for others not to look very seriously at the issue and at their own practices. I hope the material herein will help cooperators do that.

The need to improve business practices among cooperative retails in a number of ways is what led to the launching of this publication and its emphasis on practical, operations-oriented articles that can help other retailers do their job better. While that will continue to be the emphasis, we're also going to be publishing more material on the social and political vision which brought many of us into cooperatives and which continues to be a key factor in worker, member, and shopper motivation. We'll be presenting not only argument and analysis, but examples from retailers of how they incorporate social and political values into their business practices.

Member investment and member labor are two important areas in which such values are manifested. In my opinion, the first of these has been greatly underemphasized, while the second has been greatly overemphasized. The material published in this issue attempts to encourage a more critical perspective. Reader letters or articles, on these or other matters in these pages, are encour

See other articles from this issue: #008 December - January - 1987