CCMA Conference Highlights and Challenges

Surrounded by the rolling hills of southern Indiana, some 360 co-op board members, managers, staff, trainers and others attended the 2010 Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA) conference, held at Indiana University in Bloomington on June 10–12. Supplementing a diverse and resourceful program, local host Bloomingfoods Cooperative had planned stimulating tours of cultural and historic landmarks, local organic farms and a winery, and the co-op’s three stores. Visitors who had been unsure whether the location could offer much of interest (Is that next to Bloomington, Illinois?) found an impressive campus, enthusiastic co-op hosts, and an outstanding schedule of presentations and diversions.

The CCMA program features a wide range of workshops and speakers for both board members and managers. It exposes attendees to challenges beyond their local housekeeping and offers leading ­perspectives from both inside and outside the cooperative sector. This year’s CCMA audience responded with strong interest to keynote speakers, including Bruce Philp, a leader in branded marketing (brandcowboy.blogspot.com); Michael Shuman, author of The Small-Mart Revolution, from the ­Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (small-mart.org); and retail food industry expert Michael Sansolo (michaelsansolo.com). Between these keynotes, eight different workshop tracks covered topics such as branding and marketing communications, financial planning and resources, department management, startup co-op challenges, and board governance lessons.

Sponsored by the National Cooperative Business Association, the CCMA conference currently is planned by Ann Hoyt at the University of ­Wisconsin–Extension’s Urban Cooperative Initiative. This was the 54th annual CCMA conference, bringing together veterans and newcomers from across the country, with more than 80 co-ops and other organizations represented this year. However, noticeably few managers and directors from the West or from the National Cooperative Grocers Association were present to balance strong attendance from the Central and Eastern sections of the country.

Through these many perspectives, the state of co-ops was reviewed and debated. The potential for new cooperative enterprise generated much discussion, and how to build relationships with allies and meet more of this cooperative potential were recurring themes.

This year, a new website, www.ccma.coop, was introduced to help organize the conference and give it a lasting resource.

Fundraising and awards
Fun, fundraising and awards of recognition also figured in conference activities. The Howard Bowers Fund, administered by Cooperative Development Foundation (see sidebar), receives a generous contribution each year from CCMA attendees. Howard Bowers Fund trustees are chosen from among food co-op leaders, and they decide on allocations. Moneys go to co-op startups, conferences, and scholarships for co-op training and education, including attendance at CCMA itself.

At CCMA 2010, auctions of three lovely quilts made from co-op T-shirts; bowling and billiards games; and a silent auction netted over $40,000 for the Howard Bowers Fund.

The Bowers Fund also oversees annual awards of recognition to leaders in the food co-op sector. This year, the following were recognized and applauded for their achievements:

Wheatsville Co-op: Retail Excellence.
In the extremely competitive natural/organic market in Austin, Texas, Wheatsville continues to generate solid achievements, growing at double digits during each of the past four years. Led for 10 years by General Manager Dan Gillotte, Wheatsville undertook a very successful expansion and facelift in 2009 while continuing to post some of the best operating numbers in the entire food co-op sector. Gillotte is known for his enterprising and humorous character, while the co-op is known for its excellent service and its determination to “keep Austin weird.”

Nancy Casady: Cooperative Service. ­General manager for 14 years at Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Market in San Diego, Calif., Casady has demonstrated dedicated leadership both within the co-op and outside it on such issues las labeling genetically engineered foods, expanding the use of EBT for low-income shoppers, and strengthening regional and national cooperative grocers associations. Under her tenure the co-op relocated in 2002 to a new “green” building, and it has been profitable every year. She asked that the staff get special mention as a primary reason for the co-op’s achievements; some of them have gone on to become managers at other co-ops.

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