Guest post by Jennifer of Growing Up Triplets
I love a good deal, same as the next girl. Let’s face it – we women often get a sense of accomplishment from saving money, right? Well, did you know you can get amazing deals when you start a co-op?
I love feeding my family real, whole foods, but shopping at Whole Foods on a regular basis just isn’t, well, realistic. And when I can get the same quality foods for a fraction of the prices, it’s usually a no-brainer for me. How do I do this? I start a co-op.
What is a Co-op?
A food cooperative or food co-op is a food distribution outlet organized as a cooperative. Food cooperatives are usually consumers’ cooperatives where the decisions regarding the production and distribution of its food is chosen by its members. (source)
Really that just means – go start a co-op because it’s awesome! 🙂 Co-ops can range from animal feed to whole foods to personal products – the sky is the limit!
How to Start a Co-op
For our purposes, we’ll assume we want to begin a food co-op.
- Find a need. This is usually a need for your family and your community. Often, if you have a need for a product, others do, too. Maybe your family needs good, grassfed beef. Or you need gluten-free flours that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Perhaps you want fair-trade, organic coffee and want to cut out the middle man.
- Find a source. Ask around. Call the big companies (or farms). Call the smaller ones. Find out who can reduce prices if you can guarantee quantities.
- Find the community. Use social media, your blog (here’s mine!), word-of-mouth, your children’s school, etc. and share what you’ve discovered! Get feedback and gauge interest. Do you have enough? If so, proceed – and if not, encourage interested individuals to spread the word till you do.
- Figure out the details. Will you need to meet the delivery? Will others pick up from you? Will you have to pass on taxes, shipping fees, shipping materials, fuel? Do you have enough storage space (coolers, garage space) to host until pick-up/shipping? What questions will the co-op ask about the product(s)? Once you have estimated these details, begin ordering!
- Fulfill the order. Get as organized as you can to track orders, shipping, etc. and place your order with the company. Communicate clearly with the co-op when the items will be ready for pick-up or shipping out.
Of course, it can be quite a bit more challenging to work out the details in the beginning. But once you get going and work out the kinks, it’s usually a lot of fun. You’re seeing a need and finding a way to fill it – cost effectively! You’re also providing for your family!
Other Benefits to Starting a Co-op
Along the way, you’ll get to connect with great people on a similar journey as you! One of my favorite things about running co-ops are the relationships I make with local vendors and farmers. These people become a favorite part of my three children’s routine as we do pick-ups together and they learn where their food is coming from (even though they’re only two years old – yep, triplets!).
Besides getting products you want at the co-op prices, you may be able to work out some of your products free or discounted for bringing these new customers to the vendor/farmer. (Be sure to determine if you need to claim any earnings on your taxes.)
Challenges to Starting a Co-op
It can be a lot of work. A lot. Many times, though, the products and prices have made it well worth my time in organizing and coordinating. Try to give it some time and allow things to settle into a routine before you close it.
I learned the hard way that it’s important – for my family – to set specific pick-up times. I am providing a service for people, so I get to determine when the pick-up needs to take place. A co-op I joined after we moved to Tennessee has a two-hour window for pick-up. The products were important to me – I planned ahead and made the necessary arrangements to be there at the specified time frame.
It can be confusing. It may be helpful to create a document for tracking details so you know who has ordered what, paid, picked-up, etc. Actually, I highly recommend it. 🙂
Some of my favorite memories over the past years have been connecting with my local farmers for products I need and passing them on to others who want them – making friends along the way.
Have you wanted to start a co-op? What product are you looking for?
Jennifer blogs at Growing Up Triplets where she writes about raising their two-year-old-triplets, taking the family back to living simply, and endeavoring to honor God in the midst of it all. She has been married to her hubby, David, for four years and is madly in love with him! You can follow Jennifer and the three peas on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the blog.