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Must read for anyone who wants to know "How to talk about the Co-op"

The Co-op's existing member-owners are by far the most important and effective salespeople for attracting new members and helping us get to our short-term goal of 250 Founding members. The success of the venture will depend on your efforts to bring in new members. And sometimes all we need is a little help with what to say. At our member meeting on October 17, Stephanie and I gave a little presentation on "How to Talk About the Co-op." I've already recapped perhaps the answer to one of our most important questions. Here I'll share the complete presentation. Take what you want. Leave out what you don't want. It's all up to you. And remember, each new member you bring in earns you a volunteer hour and gets us that much closer to 250. How to talk about Co-op Starting the conversation Often, the most difficult part of talking about the Co-op is figuring out how to bring it up in the course of a normal conversation. This doesn't have to be so. Anything that brings the subject to food is a possible starting point for talking about the Co-op. Someone mentions getting things from a local farmers market. Did you hear about the South Philly Food Co-op, it's a member-owned grocery store that could make farmers market-quality produce available all week long. A friend complains that they can't find a good non-dairy cheese substitute at the local chain supermarket. The South Philly Food Co-op will carry items suggested by its members, which means if people want the high-quality vegan and vegetarian foods, they can buy it there. There are countless ways to start the conversation even if it's just the simple, "Have you heard about the South Philly Food Co-op" that we so often use when tabling at events. Once the conversation starts, however, then you have to be ready to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. The good thing is that there are very few facts, if any, that need to memorized. Answering questions about the Co-op includes a lot of variations of "That's the great thing about a Co-op… the answer to that question will be determined by the members!" Let's go through a few of the most common questions and go over the main points you might want to hit when answering them. What is a co-op? Very simple. A co-op is a type of business that is equally owned by its members, whether they be the makers of the products or the customers. In our case, we are looking to open a member (or cooperatively) owned grocery store that will be owned by its customers, who will all have an equal stake in the business. This differs from most businesses that you're used to in that the owner of the store is a person or limited group of people who make all the decisions about the store or a corporate model that is owned by stockholders who can buy as much of a piece of the business as they want for the sole purpose of receiving a piece of the profit and managed by a CEO and others who make the decisions. In the case of the Co-op, day-to-day businesses decisions will be made by the store management but the bigger picture issues will be decided by the members either by direct vote or through the decisions of the board, who themselves are member-owners. Most importantly, no ONE household or member has any more power or decision-making authority than any other, whether they have been a member for a day or a decade. Why would I join now instead of waiting until you have a store? An excellent question and one that can be answered pretty simply. Joining now is the best way to get the Co-op opened soon. So if this is something you're really interested in and would like to see happen in the next couple years, join now AND ask some friends and neighbors if they would like to join. The location for the Co-op will also be determined, in part, by where most of the members live at the time of the location decision. So one way to make sure the the Co-op is close to you is to become a member AND get everyone on your street to become a member too. What benefits are there to joining? There are plenty of monetary benefits through our shop South Philly program which will be launching soon. Membership also includes decision-making power to influence the initial location, direction and policies of the Co-op. And eventually, members will be entitled to exclusive specials, sales and events. But the benefit to joining now is much bigger. It's the knowledge that YOU are a Founding Member. You are making possible what we all hope will be an institution in this neighborhood for decades. Not all of us have time to do "something big" or to make a difference in the community, but by becoming a member now, you WILL be making a difference and that's something to feel good about. Will I get my money back if I move or if you don't open? The Board and the various committees are working EXTREMELY hard to make sure that costs associated with the planning phase of the Co-op are covered as much as possible by money raised through events like the Garden Tour and happy hours. The goal is that any money paid as member-owner equity goes directly to actual start-up costs like renting or buying a store, hiring management and staff and acquiring inventory. You can trust that the Board, who are all member-owners themselves with the same stake as you, will be good stewards of your money and take their fiduciary responsibilities very seriously. Once the store is open, member-owners who move or want to cease being a part of the co-op are entitled to all or part of their equity depending on the liquidity of the store at that time. Where will the co-op be located? If you ever get this question, welcome to the club! This is perhaps the most frequently asked question we get. And for a lot of people, the answer I'm about to suggest just won't be good enough. Those are the folks who are waiting for a location to be determined before they decide whether or not to buy in. Don't be discouraged by them… in fact consider them a stockpile of potential member-owners who will flood our ranks when we DO get a location. But, for those who are just curious and are so interested in the Co-op that they would consider joining before we choose a location, here goes… Location will be determined by a number of factors, the most important of which is where most of our members live. So the best way to influence that decision is to become a member and get all of your neighbors to join as well. Other factors will be determined by a comprehensive and professional analysis of the market and a feasibility study that will tell us what kind of space and traffic we need to have the best chance for success. This is simply too big a decision to be made based on a "feeling" or a romantic attachment to a building. We're not interested in starting something that is going to fail so we're going to approach the location decision in the most business-savvy way possible. Finally, depending on your audience, you may ask them whether they have heard of Weaver's Way in Mt. Airy or Mariposa in West Philadelphia. Whether they have or not, you can absolutely promise that the South Philly Food Co-op will be closer to them than either of those co-ops. What kind of products will the Co-op offer? Another very frequently asked question for which the best answer ultimately is… it depends. I know… seems kind of cagey, right? But that's the truth. One of the great things about a co-op is that the member-owners help determine the product mix. If the membership shows a preference for all locally grown produce or beef and pork from locally and responsibly raised cows and pigs, that's what the Co-op will carry. The members, through their board representatives, set the policies that will govern the types of products that are available. So really, you can answer this question with a question… "What would you want to see the Co-op offer?" Is this just another expensive health food store? Yep… it's possible that everything you've described about the Co-op puts the picture in your audience's mind of a store full of nuts, seeds and grasses. So how to answer this question… I happen to like ice cream. I like cookies. I like candy. (You see where I'm going… I have a bit of a sweet tooth.) As a member-owner I'm going to want to see those products on the shelves. Of course, probably not talking about products from large corporations, otherwise why wouldn't you just go to the local supermarket chain. So while everything in the store won't necessary be "healthy" you'll at least know how it was made, who made it and where it came from. $200 seems like a lot of money... The economy is down. We get that. We want it to be as easy as possible for people to become members but we also want it to mean something to them when they do. So that means having "skin in the game." But we also understand that not everyone can fork over $200 at one time. So for a minimum of $25, anyone can become a member owner and take up to 26 months to make installments to get up to $200. It's this easy: join now for $25. Pay off the rest of your first $100 by the end of the current year then pay off the next $100 by December 31st of the following year. And that's it. No more obligations. Sure, you can take part in any member loan campaigns we might do to raise funds but your $200 member equity gives you all the rights and privileges enjoyed by every other member-owner. Do I have to volunteer to work at the store? (usually comes from people who know something about co-ops) People who know something about co-ops might ask this question. It's true that some co-ops have done away with their volunteer requirements but the South Philly Food Co-op board felt that having some token requirement of volunteer service would help strengthen the community-building aspect of the Co-op. So the answer is "Yes. But it's not as bad as you think it is." Each member-owner household is required to do 8 hours of volunteer work for the Co-op. That means if there are 4 people in your household, you could, in theory, each do 2 hours to cover the requirement. And there are several ways to fulfill these requirements, even ways to do them from home. We're not basing the feasibility of this business on the free labor of volunteers. We just want member-owners to get to know the Co-op and each other better by participating in the running of the store. You might actually have fun. So there are some ways to handle some of the most frequently asked questions that we get about the Co-op. In the end, however, the reason why someone will choose to become a part of this movement is unique to them. We each have our own reason, whether it's for the food, for the community building, for the economic model or for the strengthening of our food system. Your reason will be what you are most comfortable talking about… so go with it. Something convinced YOU to become a member. Who's to say that same thing won't help you convince someone else. So go… sign up a new member or five. Get us to the 250 and beyond. And let us know what works for you so we can share it with others.