Published July 15, 2016 by Food Co-op Initiative
“No, no . . . it’s going to be a store!“
By Siobain Mitchell of (the newly re-named) Assabet Village Co-op Market
The staff at FCI knows that the path to opening a new retail food co-op is rarely a straight line. The potholes and unexpected turns can really shake up even the best startup team. We love to share stories of these Growing Pains, and how startups have overcome them, or what they would do differently.
Assabet Village Co-op Market in Maynard, MA has learned that starting a new food co-op takes time, energy, patience, and a lot of work. And that sometimes, after sharing the idea beyond the original group, a shift in name and image in needed. Our thanks to Siobain Mitchell, who has been with Assabet Village from the beginning, for sharing one of their Growing Pains with us. For more information about Assabet Village, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at email@example.com.
Have you stood behind a table at a farmers’ market or community event talking to passers-by about your startup food co-op? I have. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve had all kinds of conversations with all kinds of people. Happy people. Grumpy people. Opinionated people. Really busy people. Really, really talkative people. Every conversation has taught me something—something about my community, something about what it takes to build a cooperative, something about myself.
Sometimes people see our banner, and they see the word “co-op”, and they come straight over. They have stories to share: co-ops they shopped at before moving to the Boston area, or while in college; co-ops in basements or churches that they were part of in their youth, or that their parents were part of; co-ops that they love to visit while on vacation.
Sometimes people see our banner, and they think we must be communists. Or some hippie thing where the hours you can shop depend on what astrological sign the moon has just moved into.
Here at Assabet Village though, we had an additional hurdle to get over. We found ourselves having to explain, first and foremost, that the co-op was going to be a store. Some people thought we might be a buying club, or discount warehouse. Many, many people thought we were some kind of food pantry, or food assistance charity.
Our name was then “The Assabet Village Food Cooperative”.
Our logo came from our earliest days. For our very first community meeting, one of our organizers created some posters to put around the room. And one of those posters showed a circle with connected dots. It was meant to represent the organizing team—board in the middle, committees along the outside. The image was very well liked, and we decided to use it.
There was, however, nothing in our logo to suggest a store. There’s no beet or carrot or shaft of wheat. For anyone new to the idea of a food co-op, mistaking us for a food pantry was understandable.
After some discussion, we decided to become “Assabet Village Co-op Market”.
It was not a particularly quick process. Some people were initially reluctant to change. Options were sorted through. All new graphics had to be created. Our website was re-done.
Nor was it free—we’ve bought all new brochures, business cards, letterhead, banners, bumper magnets, etc.
But it was definitely worth it. We love the new name, and we believe that the re-branding will make it easier for our volunteers to table—they’ll have one less thing to explain.
It’s going to be a store. And we’ll open when you join!
FCI: Why we love this: Taking another look at your co-op’s “brand” —its name, its logo, how it communicates—is often needed in stage two. You now have a year or more under your belt of watching how owners and the community react to your brand and how well it communicates. Assabet made the decision to address the community confusion over what exactly the co-op was going to be. They shifted their name to have a modern, ‘grocery store’ ring to it without shedding the “co-op” part, which was deeply important to them. Does your co-op’s name resonate with your audience? Could it better express exactly what your co-op has to offer the community? We encourage you to check out Assabet Village’s experience and consider your own name!