As co-op leaders, we have to think about the longer-term future of our co-ops and the system that supports and contributes to the success of co-ops. We have to think beyond outside forces that can shape our destiny so we can create the future we want.
Our co-op structure gives us a chance to have an impact on people’s lives and in our local communities in powerful ways. But this also brings the responsibility of considering how we can leverage this business model for more great things and bigger impact.
In this issue, we look at how five co-ops prepared for and experienced growth. These stories provide lessons for all to learn in considering growth opportunities for our co-ops. And then, as usual, we include a study guide with three sets of questions to help your board discuss the co-op’s future and how to envision growth.
Building a Culture of Growth – C.E. Pugh
“Board and management should work together to create a long-range plan for growth — a plan for at least the next ten to twenty years. The question should not be if but how we should grow.”
An Out-of-the-Box Carrot Story – Cindy Owings
“As a board, if you see an expansion carrot in your future, consider whether you have what it takes to support staff with creative ideas and participation. Examine your board’s risk temperature. Remember that the going may not be easy, but the outcome can be worth the trip.”
If One More Store is Good, Why Not Two? – Martha Whitman
“But the clincher for the board was when our general manager assured us that if any one of our stores failed, it wouldn’t take the whole co-op down. In fact, we would be gaining asset diversity, so if one store ran into trouble, the others could help smooth out the financial impact.
Heck, we’d never considered that angle before.”
Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Communicating about Expansion – Paige Lettington
“Keep two-way communication regarding the co-op’s future going all the time. The board’s job is to provide vision and to help member-owners understand how that vision benefits the co-op and them…. Focus on educating as many people as possible about how your vision will benefit them.”
Growth by Starting a New Co-op: Great Basin Community Food Co-op – Lucinda Berdon
“The relocation seems worth it now, but there were many lessons learned. A lack of experience working with contractors, and feeling rushed by unrealistic deadlines, added to the stress…. And then there was the culture shock. Evolving from a staff of only five to a workforce of twenty-five required different systems and a new approach — with the need to be more formal and less grassroots.”
Preparing for Growth – Marcia Shaw
“Expansion is a big decision — perhaps the biggest you’ll ever make in monetary terms. And there are so many people to bring along — staff, the community, members. It looks daunting, but rest assured that others are willing to share their experiences, including their mistakes.”
Study Guide: Envisioning Growth – Philip Buri
“Is growth inevitable?” “How do we predict an uncertain future?” “What seeds do you want to harvest in 2033?” Questions for discussion as the board considers your co-op’s growth strategy and gets ready for that next big growth opportunity!
We welcome your comments, suggestions, and stories. Did you learn something? Were the discussions that came out of this issue useful to your board? How did your board use this issue in your planning and visioning process? Send your suggestions, comments, experiences, reactions, and/or new scenarios and resources that you develop, to email@example.com.