Published December 4, 2012 by Food Co-op Initiative

“Our co-op has weathered the trials of stage one organizing and done some initial feasibility work. Now we are forming a site selection committee. Do you have or know of any resources that help define this process and the scope of work that this committee should be looking to achieve?”

Forming a site selection committee is one of the most fun parts for volunteers – it seems like everyone wants to play a role in determining where the store should be.

You’ll probably get a ton of suggestions, and most of them will not be suitable. How do you keep from being overwhelmed by uninformed public opinion? The committee should first develop criteria for evaluating potential sites. Then you can take everyone’s suggestions enthusiastically, and rest assured that the unsuitable ones will be weeded out by the process.

There are some great guides on how to develop criteria.  Check out our market research and choosing a locationwebinars.

The next step will be doing a very thorough canvass of possible sites in the community. In my experience, most groups at first err on the side of thinking too concretely, which limits their vision. Yes, it’s a gas station (or an empty lot) today, but in two years with $3 million dollars, it might be the store of your dreams.

One word of caution: discussion of possible sites needs to be kept confidential.

  • Building owners have been known to suddenly up the price on that vacant building, once they knew the co-op was interested.  (A developer or commercial real estate agent can help negotiate on your behalf to prevent this.)
  • Sites fall through, and getting your member-owners’ hearts set on a site is a recipe for frustration, and the perception that a “set back” has happened.
  • A competitor, once they know that the site is suitable for a natural foods store, may decide to put one in faster than you can.  It’s happened.
  • For whatever reason, you may later learn more information and reconsider which site is your primary choice.  You’re free to do that until you sign a lease… unless you’ve already set the expectation with members.  Then it gets tricky.

At a certain point, the site selection committee members (and of course the board) will be privileged with the most valuable information the co-op has.  It’s good to think about “an inner core” on that committee that finalizes the process, if you have a large committee that begins it.  I would set the expectation early that there will be some secrets about the site list, and why.  Members are generally fine with that, when they know the reasons.  And it’s okay for the board to go into executive session when they’re discussing sites.

Once the lease-with-contingencies has been signed, everyone gets to find out.  It’s a great idea to have a party to celebrate, since it will have been a big secret up to then (hopefully).  If suitable, have the party on the site — that’s always a great member recruitment device, or a great kick-off to the member loan campaign. No vision is more concrete than the actual site!

Additional suggested resources:  FCI Site Selection Checklist, The FCI Guide to Starting a Food Co-op