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What is a cooperative?

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How can we use member loans to finance an expansion project?

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General Questions

What is a cooperative?2019-07-20T08:44:46-04:00

A cooperative is a business that is owned and controlled by its members. In consumer food cooperatives, the members consist of people who use the goods and services provided by the co-op. Membership is open and voluntary to those who wish to join. There are many types of cooperatives all over the world including consumer co-ops, worker co-ops, housing co-ops, producer co-ops and credit unions. No matter what their function, all cooperatives exist to serve their member-owners.

Each member makes an investment in their co-op and has a voice in controlling their co-op’s activities. Anyone may become a member by making an investment to get the benefits all members receive, including one vote in member decisions. This is different from privately owned businesses, in which there is unequal ownership and control based on the size of one’s investment.

Co-ops operate according to a set of specific business principles designed to benefit their memberships. Although cooperatives serve a wide variety of purposes and use differing organizational structures, they generally direct their activities toward the common good and foster active democratic participation and education. Worldwide, cooperatives adhere to the International Cooperative Alliance Statement of Cooperative Identity and Cooperative Principles.

Do I have to be a cooperative to utilize Columinate services?2019-07-20T08:45:05-04:00

Not at all! Columinate consultants work with food co-ops, electric co-ops, credit unions, independent retailers, school boards, employee-owned businesses and not-for-profits (to name a few). Our focus is on helping mission-driven organizations who are dedicated to helping people and harnessing community to create positive change.

What services can Columinate consultants provide?2019-07-20T08:45:17-04:00

Columinate includes a network of experienced independent consulting professionals who specialize in developing cooperatives. Our consultants specialize in helping cooperatives achieve growth, increase profitability, improve board leadership, strengthen management, and better serve their members and community. We tailor our services to deliver results for co-ops.

How can our organization begin to plan an expansion or growth project?2019-07-20T08:45:30-04:00

Columinate can provide you with a variety of cost-effective services throughout the planning and implementation of your expansion/relocation project. Our consultants have assisted more than 250 cooperatives with expansion projects ranging from $100,000 to $5 million.

What is Policy Governance®?2019-07-20T08:45:41-04:00

Policy Governance® is a comprehensive model whereby governing boards establish their values and expectations in policy, delegate implementation to the board’s sole employee (typically the general manager), and monitor the outcome of operational activities against the stated policies. Policy Governance® gives boards the capacity and role clarity to truly be trustees for the member-owners.

Cooperative governance is the act of steering cooperatively-owned enterprises toward economic, social and cultural success. It consists of answering key questions, defining roles and responsibilities, and establishing processes for setting expectations and ensuring accountability.

Columinate has created a model of cooperative governance recognizing the unique needs of the co-op world. Based on the results of our research and deep experience with food co-op boards, the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance model (4PCG) offers directors and managers a framework for approaching their work grounded in cooperative values.

How do we assess the size of our store’s market?2019-07-20T08:45:52-04:00

Our consulting services include market and site analysis studies, trade area determination and market penetration analysis, market expansion strategy, cannibalization and sales impact studies, problem store analysis, and sales forecasting. These consulting services are useful when considering new or additional stores, remodels, expansions, or relocations. They can also result in a better understanding of existing store trade areas, in terms of their size, configuration and market penetration.

How can our store improve our profitability?2019-07-20T08:46:20-04:00

Columinate offers a two-day Margin Management workshop that analyzes your current margin strategy and provides suggestions on how to improve that strategy.

How can we use member loans to finance an expansion project?2019-07-20T08:46:30-04:00

Member loans are the most effective way to determine member support of an expansion project and to leverage necessary bank financing. Many co-ops dramatically underestimate the potential for member loans that can be raised from their membership.

How do cooperatives get started?2019-07-20T08:46:38-04:00

Every co-op starts with an idea. One or two people see a need and envision a way to meet that need. Whether that need is for members to receive better prices, to gain access to new products, or to obtain specific services, the need must be clear.

Starting a co-op is just as complex and time consuming as starting any business. To be done properly, it can’t be rushed. Most experts estimate that starting a co-op typically takes at least two years. As with any new business, starting a co-op will involve thorough and careful business planning.

Columinate created Four Cornerstones in three stages, a development model which comprises a process for developing a cooperative retail food business. The model identifies the attributes necessary for a successful food co-op. If you’re a start up food co-op, contact the Food Co-op Initiative to help you get started.

What funding resources are available to help groups starting a cooperative?2019-07-20T08:46:50-04:00

As with other forms of business, owners provide much of the capital needed to get a business started. Member-owned capital can be leveraged to obtain other sources of capital if the feasibility and business planning look promising.

Local fundraising is usually the beginning point for most groups. If the community shows support, this is a positive signal to other funding organizations. Some efforts have been funded in part by charitable organizations and/or local, state, regional and federal programs. The resources available are often linked to the remediation of specific needs such as increasing economic development and job opportunities. The internet and networking, beginning with local leaders and business people, are often the best ways to start searching for a funding source that fits the situation.

Events & Training

Who should attend our in-person events?2019-07-27T07:05:18-04:00

Our events are customized for each topic. They are designed to benefit anyone from the employees of your organization, to board members, to community stakeholders. Reach out to a Columinate consultant to find out who would benefit from each of our events.

What are the costs of your events?2021-10-12T11:43:25-04:00

Prices will vary depending on the event and whether your organization is enrolled in CBLD.  We keep our events affordable to benefit organizations of all sizes.

For the Co-op Cafe there is a modest fee of $20 per participant (thanks to sponsorship by National Co+op Grocers and additional support from National Cooperative Bank).

For the trainings (such as CBL 101 and other topical trainings) there is no charge for attendance for organizations enrolled in CBLD or CBLD Complete (discounted enrollment for CBLD Basic). If your co-op’s not in CBLD you may still register for these trainings for a fee.  The fee varies per event, check the event page on our website for details.

Do you host in-person events in my city?2019-07-27T07:03:01-04:00

We host events year-round, in different cities throughout the country. Check out our schedule to find an event at the city nearest you. If you are interested in arranging an event in your region, please reach out to us!

Is food provided at the in-person events?2019-07-27T07:10:23-04:00

For the scheduled events in our calendar, we will provide participants with a light breakfast and lunch as well as light snacks and beverages at breaks during the day.

How will photo and video from events be used?2019-07-27T07:10:55-04:00

Over the course of our events we record video and take photos of the event and its participants. These videos and photos will be developed into resources for the Columinate Library and used in promotional materials for CBLD and future in-person sessions. If you would prefer not to appear in any resources or materials, please let us know by sending an email to [email protected]. If we don’t hear from you, we will assume that you’re OK with your image being used related to Columinate programs and resources. For examples of resources previously developed, you can visit the Cooperative Cafe in the Columinate Library.

I’m registered for an event and I’m not sure where to park?2019-07-27T07:12:19-04:00

Each venue has different instructions for parking on or around their site. You can feel free to contact the venue directly, or reach out to us at [email protected] for more information!

Do you support the implementation of the things we will learn in your training programs?2019-07-27T07:12:43-04:00

Yes, Columinate consultants can help implement any number of programs designed to help your organization meet its goals. Your consultant will work with you on how they can help you over the long-term.

Do you have trainings that would benefit other mission-driven organizations besides co-ops?2019-07-27T07:13:42-04:00

Yes, our consultants have extensive expertise in assisting all levels of community organizations succeed. We support everything from food co-ops to electric co-ops, in addition to schools and healthcare organizations. Please contact us to tailor a training program that’s just right for your organization.

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