How are you celebrating the new year and new decade? At our food co-op we really know how to have fun! Four of our board members gathered at the store this morning to take stock of our inventory, something we have to do every quarter to keep our books straight.
It’s actually kind of a fun job, which only takes a couple of hours and involves some counting, scanning, and a bit of heavy lifting as we weigh what’s in the bulk bins. It’s an old-school co-op task, harking back to the days when members got together to sort and weigh and divvy up the orders of things you couldn’t get anywhere else, like whole wheat flour and nutritional yeast and organic sugar (except at hard-core co-ops that refused to sell sugar).
Now, of course, every Wal-mart and supermarket chain carries organic sugar and most other things that used to be available only at little indie health food stores. So keeping a food co-op afloat economically is even harder than it used to be. Competition eats into market share and also drives prices downward, making the profit margins on these foods ever slimmer.
We continue to struggle with that at our co-op. It’s why we haven’t been able to keep the shelves as fully stocked as we need to in order to offer many things we know people would like to buy from us. We know we need to grow our sales if we’re ever going to be financially stable, but if there’s nothing left over after we’ve paid our other bills (things like utilities, payroll, loan payments), how can we buy enough inventory to do that?
On the plus side, our slimmer stock does make the quarterly inventory a quicker task! But that’s a cold comfort. Much more heartening is the initial response we’ve had to a new campaign that we’re calling “Share a Shelf.”
We’re asking our members and shoppers to consider underwriting the wholesale cost of a particular item or section of our inventory. The donor can keep up to 30% of the purchase (again, an old-school co-op idea) and the rest goes into the store with no cost of goods for the co-op. This allows us not only to keep all the proceeds but to fill a lot of the gaps that have been opening up on our shelves this past year.
We piloted the program in the fall and have raised nearly $10,000 so far, all of which has gone straight to purchasing items we know we can sell: local honey and coffee, bulk buys of dried fruits and snacks, spices and other supplies for our prepared foods section, and yes, some regular grocery items that tend to turn over quickly.
We’re such a small operation that these sponsored items make a quick and substantial difference in both the appearance of the store and our sales levels. They make a huge difference in spirit and morale, too, as we feel the community that cares about this store coming together yet again to help keep the doors open. We’re not sure how long “Share a Shelf” will remain part of our fundraising repertoire, but in the short term, it’s giving us a big boost as we start into our second decade and another new year.