Development Flowcharts by Stage

Through over a decade of use, this "4 in 3" model has proved to be the basis of successful retail food co-op development.

Introduction to the 4 in 3 Model

Contained in this co-op organizing guide is a graphical guide to the organizing process, utilizing the Four Cornerstones in Three Stages model, also known as the “4 in 3 model”.

4 in 3 model

4 in 3 Model Background

The Four Cornerstones in Three Stages Development Model (4 in 3) was developed by Cooperative Development Services, a partner with NCB and National Co+op Grocers (NCG) in designing this program. All three organizations believe that the 4 in 3 model, if followed by the applicant, will result in a greater chance for success.

The 4 in 3 model is based on the four cornerstones of vision, talent, capital, and systems that are each within three stages of food co-op development: organizing, feasibility and planning, and finally implementation. The four cornerstones and their three stages comprise a process for developing a cooperative retail food business. This process recognizes the need for support systems along the journey and seeks to provide assistance to approved applicants during the various stages.

The meaning of the model

The model is unique in the sense that it relies on each individual and organization involved to play a specific role that ultimately contributes to the best possible outcome and likelihood of success. The four cornerstones and the associated three stages create a mental model or framework that should govern those involved in the success of the cooperative.

From The Cooperative Grocer, “Cornerstones, as the name implies, are the foundations of a strong business development process. Every startup, regardless of size or mission, needs clarity of vision, strong talent, sufficient capital, and well-designed systems. Likewise, every startup will move through an initial organizing stage before researching the feasibility and planning their business needs in preparation for the implementation of plans and goals. As a co-op moves through the development stages, keeping all the cornerstones solid will ensure strength throughout the project. This simple and straightforward development model can bring clarity and greater effectiveness to a broad range of planning activities.

Ten years after its formulation, the original 4 in 3 Development Model is going strong. Food Co-op 500 found that the model was effective for a wide variety of startups.  Since then, its successor organization, Food Co-op Initiative, has promoted the model to hundreds of startup groups who have benefited from the structure and insights it provides. CDS Consulting Co-op incorporates this model throughout its work, and cooperative development centers across the country are adding it to their resources.

The 4 in 3 model itself has needed no modifications—although it is true that we often break down Implementation into 3 sub-stages (Pre-construction, Construction/Renovation, and Preparation for Opening) and refer to Post-Opening as an additional stage. “4 Cornerstones in 3 (or 4) Stages and 3 sub-stages” just doesn’t have a good ring to it. The continuing validity of 4 Cornerstones in 3 Stages is a testament to the wisdom of the model and its simplicity.”