Published June 20, 2016 by Food Co-op Initiative
The staff at FCI knows that the path to opening a new retail food co-op is rarely a straight line. The sheer volume of things to do can sometimes overwhelm even the best startup team. We want to share this story of using community business partners to build success, and how startups might benefit from Helpful Partners.
Bay City Cooperative Market in Bay CIty, Michigan needed to build a great website to market their startup. They reached out to the local community and got professional work donations to help. This donation of service also has supported their promotional efforts. Our thanks to Dennis Rosenblum from Bay CIty for sharing a bit about their own Helpful Partners with us. For more information about Bay CIty Cooperative Market, email firstname.lastname@example.org Reach the Food Co-op Initiative staff anytime at email@example.com.
One solution, as we’ve found out, is to just ask.
Sure, we could have come up with a website ourselves. There are even free web services that look good.
Instead, we asked a local design firm for free help. The response? They actually seemed honored that we’d asked. As they put it on Facebook: “Every once in a while, we have the privilege of taking on a project to help improve the community where we live. The Bay City Food Cooperative is one of those projects.”
And what we got (check out baycityfood.org) was much more than we’d have come up with ourselves.
Later, when we saw that some other co-ops had great promotional videos, we decided to rip off—rather, to borrow—their idea. So we asked a local videographer for free help. His response? Sure, he’d do it—and so would various co-op supporters who didn’t hesitate to talk enthusiastically on camera.
A month later, we had a great video that quickly scored thousands of views and created lots of buzz about the co-op.
Along the way, a printer provided us with promotional rack cards for free. And when we needed to book a hotel for a market consultant coming to town, we didn’t get a free room—but we did get a nice discount.
In every case, all we had to do was ask.
When we went looking for prizes to award in membership drives, we looked to friends and co-op supporters who have businesses. Again, no problem. People were eager to help.
Are we just lucky? Do we have some secret sauce? Do we have a town full of particularly cooperative people? Probably not.
Two points that may be obvious but are worth remembering:
1. Make sure you’re clear on what the gift covers. For instance, if it’s from a mechanic, is it a free tune-up or a gift certificate good for anything? You don’t want winners to end up feeling like they got scammed.
2. Give the donor some publicity in return. When you promote a prize drawing, mention the business and its address or website. When the prize is awarded, take a picture of the donor and the winner together for your Facebook and/or blog posting.
Looking back, we’ve made some mistakes as we work toward getting a co-op up and running. We’ll probably make more. But recognizing when we can use help and asking for it isn’t a mistake at all. Really, the worst that can happen is that someone says no.
The support we’ve received affirms our belief that a food co-op would be a great addition to our city. It’s reassuring to discover that others see it that way, too—and that they’re willing to help. It brings more people into the fold. It saves us money that we can better use down the road.
If we were corporate-type people, we’d have some roll-your-eyes term to describe the power of asking for help—thinking outside the box, a win-win, leveraging or some goofy thing.
We’re not, so we don’t do that. We just think it makes sense. In a cooperative way.
FCI: Why We Like This: A co-op is more than a grocery store, it is a members of a community. Reaching out to other community businesses who support a better, healthier, and more democratic vibe in the community is a great idea! You may not always find free help, but discounts, great advice, and you will build relationships within your town that will prove valuable for years to come. You save dollars, but the gains from making these connections can go far beyond that!
FCI: And A Note on Donations and Taxation: Talk to your tax accountant and/or legal adviser before agreeing to these projects. In most cases, retail food co-ops are not charitable or tax-exempt. Donations made to a co-op are usually considered taxable “in-kind” income and will need supporting paperwork for the IRS. The donating company may not be able to claim a tax deduction for doing this work. Be sure both you and your potential partners have an understanding of this. Many partners want to support you anyway, and are not concerned, but take the time to get the facts for your own records.