About 30 people attended the Great River Co-op’s second annual meeting Thursday evening, April 25, at the Congregational church in Walpole. Member-owners reviewed the co-op’s accomplishments over the previous 12 months, learned about future plans, and snacked on Sawyer's Artisanal Cheese, made in Walpole, and spiced coffee cake from McGuire’s Bakery in Alstead.
Robert Kasper, an attorney in Walpole, has been elected to a three-year term as a member of the co-op’s board of directors. Rob was a founding member of the co-op and the board welcomes him, his commitment, and his energy back to the co-op's leadership.
Kim Mastrianni, the board’s president welcomed the group. Board member Matt Andrus, co-owner of the Townspeed company in North Walpole, reviewed the co-op’s accomplishments over the past year:
- Using funds from members and a grant from the USDA, we completed a market study conducted by CDS Consulting Co-op, the premiere consulting firm for co-ops in North America.
- Using grant funds from the private, nonprofit Food Co-op Initiative, based in Minnesota, we were able to hire Holly Gowdy as a part-time project manager. She was instrumental in helping the co-op establish an initial working relationship with farmers in our area. Holly’s a farmer and needed to reclaim her time, although she’s now a volunteer with the co-op and helps in planning special events. We’re very grateful to Holly for the work and ideas she invested in the project and she’s made a big, positive contribution to the co-op’s progress.
- We completed a member preference survey with the help of co-op member Barb Jackson, a professional market analyst who donated her skills and time to the project. Thanks, Barb!
- We formed a relationship with Tedd Benson, who is working to provide a building that will be the home of the Great River Co-op.
- Kim Mastrianni has conducted an exhaustive and ongoing financial analysis of various business models and funding scenarios. This has given the board a keener sense of the size of the store and staff that our market area can support.
John Lippman, vice president of the board, thanked people who have been crucial to the co-op’s progress but who now are stepping aside to meet the increased demands of their professional lives: board members Sally Greene, who also has been the board’s secretary, and Steve Fortier, who was the board’s first president; and Holly Gowdy, the co-op’s project manager.
Kim outlined the co-op’s major plans for the coming months:
- When Tedd Benson gives us a projected lease rate, we can test various financial projections and operational models. The goal will be to find a size for the store that we can afford to build; and still make the store big enough to carry a variety of goods to attract shoppers and create adequate cash flow. The success of the business will depend on the accuracy of those projections.
- These projections will tell us how much capital we have to raise to open the store; how much operating capital we should have on hand to make ends meet until the store can pay its own way; and when that should be.
- The board is speaking with candidates interested in becoming the co-op’s new project manager. The job requires someone with skills in community organizing and fund-raising.
- The board is in the initial planning stages of a fund-raising campaign that will begin when we know just what our capital needs will be. Most co-ops raise the majority of their capital through gifts and loans from members. We’ll need to do the same. Some of the funds raised will be used to pay the project director while the bulk of the funds will be left on deposit toward funding the opening of the store.
- We’re planning two special events in the months ahead to introduce the co-op to people who would be able to make significant financial contributions to the project. Plans are being finalized and will be announced when the details have been worked out.
Kim also noted that the co-op is reaching a point where more of us will need to be involved in planning the store, raising capital, and recruiting additional member-owners. Working groups are being formed around operations (planning the store and finances); event planning; fund-raising; and member engagement. Anyone with expertise or interest in these areas and able and willing to invest a few hours in moving the co-op forward can contact Ben Daviss at 603-445-2200 or email@example.com.
Ben reported on a conversation he had on April 25 with Betsy Black, the regional representative of the Cooperative Development Fund. The fund is a lender that specializes in supporting food co-ops, including those that are new. Betsy says that when reviewing a loan application, the fund looks at the usual things – financial projections, business plans, and so on. But it also pays special attention to the amount of volunteer time and financial support that members have invested in the co-op. Therefore, it’s crucial to the co-op’s future that members participate in the fund-raising campaign and volunteer time to do the necessary work in the months ahead.