On average, it takes five to six years to open a new community owned grocery store. This process is very similar to the process of opening a conventional grocery store except that it all takes place in the open and with community input. It may seem like a conventional store gets opened quickly because by the time they break ground, they’ve done years of behind-the-scenes work and research.
The total time it will take to open Whitewater Grocery Co. is dependent on many factors: how quickly we build our Ownership, securing a location, getting financing, and hiring a talented General Manager. All of these key pieces must be in place to open the grocery store and, as in any big undertaking, we will encounter both triumphs and challenges along the way which affect the overall timing of the project.
We began our organizing late in 2015 and officially incorporated in March 2017. Our Articles of Incorporation and the Bylaws of the Whitewater Grocery Co. are available for your reference. Through the process, we’ve taken advantage of the vast resources available to help new community owned stores get off the ground and open with success. There is nothing more important than doing this right and we have a great model for the right way. The “cookbook”, as we refer to it, is a development model based on best practices in establishing a new cooperative grocery store. We first learned about this cookbook at the 2016 Up & Coming Food Co-Op Conference and we have been following it ever since. We know that by following the recipes in this model, we’ll be cooking up a grocery store that will thrive in our community!
What has been accomplished so far?
October 2015 - Initial meetings of interested parties to discuss a cooperative in response to the closing of Sentry.
March 2016 - First Up & Coming Conference attended by a cohort of four from Whitewater. The Whitewater Community Development Authority (CDA) funded this important trip. Interest in the movement grows to over 700 on Facebook.
June 2016 - Initial Market Study Completed. The Whitewater CDA paid for a study of the retail environment of Whitewater as it relates to grocery stores. There was a special section about natural foods stores.
Summer and Fall 2016 - Website Build. We create our first website.
March 2017 - Second Up & Coming Conference attended by a cohort of five (three new members) from Whitewater. We received a grant from the Food Co-Op Initiative to attend.
April 2017 - Governance. Steering committee creates Ownership & Outreach Task Group; developed governance policies and procedures based on best practices provided by CDS Consulting Coop. Steering Committee meets monthly; Ownership & Outreach Task Group meets bi-weekly.
April 2017 - Incorporation. Steering Committee meets over breakfast tacos to finalize Articles of Incorporation and membership share structure. The Whitewater Grocery Co. incorporates on April 4.
April 2017 - Financials. Sources & Uses budget created and bank account opens at Fort Community Credit Union.
April 2017 - Ownership. Ownership agreement and promotional plan were developed to sign up our first 100 Owners (Founding Owners).
April 2017 - Branding. Ownership & Outreach Task Group approves branding guidelines, including logo, color palette, and fonts.
April 2017 - Grant Awarded. Steering Committee presents to Whitewater Community Development Authority Committee who votes unanimously to award $10,000 to provide the initial funds to pay for legal fees, consulting services, website, and promotional materials to help launch first ownership campaign.
May 5, 2017 - Founding Ownership Campaign. Steering Committee approves Bylaws and starts accepting owners.
May 2017 - Whitewater City Market. Steering Committee sets up information table at weekly Tuesday evening market.
May 31, 2017 - 157 Owners!
June 6, 2017 - Whitewater City Council Presentation. Members of the Steering Committee provide the council with an overview and update on the status of the Whitewater Grocery Co.
June 25, 2017 - Volunteer Workshop. 19 volunteers train to help communicate the four cornerstones, three stages, and benchmarks for building a cooperative grocery store.
June 30, 2017 - 184 Owners!
July 4, 2017 - Whitewater Fourth of July parade. Dedicated volunteers create our first float and distribute candy and promotional postcards during the parade. Our submission wins third place in the all business category.
July 19, 2017 - 200 Owners!
July 22, 2017 - Two Steering Committee members, Lacey Reichwald and Anne Hartwick attend the Illinois Start-Up Day in Bloomington, IL where they learn about social media, growing ownership, board relations, data management, and capital campaigns. They also had a chance to visit the newly opened Green Top Grocery in Bloomington.
July 31, 2017 - 211 Owners!
August 2, 2017 - Annual Meeting Committee forms and begins the planning stages of our first Annual Meeting where our inaugural Board of Directors will be elected.
August 3, 2017 - Awarded a seed grant from Food Co-op Initiative to help facilitate our move from Stage One (Organizing) into Stage Two (Feasibility).
August 31, 2017 - 229 Owners!
September 20, 2017 - Board of Directors applications are submitted. Eleven excellent and well-qualified candidates run for seven seats.
September 27, 2017 - Voting for the inaugural Board of Directors begins.
September 27, 2017 - 250 Owners! Over a quarter of the way to our goal of 1,000!
October 5, 2017 - Preliminary Market Study. Steering Committee conference call with Keith Wicks of Keith Wicks & Associates: Retail Development Planning discussing the geography, demographics, socioeconomics of Whitewater in relation to the feasibility and ultimate success of a community-owned grocery store.
October 6, 2017 - Yard Signs. Owners start planting their signs all over Whitewater and the surrounding area to get the word out about the Gro Co.
October 25, 2017 - First Annual Owners' Meeting. 119 attended the program at Brewhouse 841. Owners and guests were treated to good food, drinks, and an interactive visioning exercise led by Jacqueline Hannah of Food Co-op Initiative where our owners came together to construct the Gro Co.’s mission going forward. We also elected our first Board of Directors:
Jennifer Smith Crone
Joanna Marr Baker
October 31, 2017 - 277 Owners!
November 3, 2017 - 283 Owners!
November 18, 2017 - Board of Directors Meeting. Directors gather at the Cravath Lake Community Building at 9 a.m. to meet for the first time.
100 Owners - Organizing Stage. Launch first Ownership campaign and begin recruiting volunteers for task groups. Hold first annual meeting and establish a Board of Directors as well as our Bylaws. Commence contract negotiations for professional and consulting services. Achieved May 8, 2017!
300 Owners - Feasibility Stage Part A. Establish a feasibility task group to begin looking at site options and financial feasibility. Conduct a co-op specific market study and develop business plan.
500 Owners - Feasibility Stage Part B. Begin site analysis, finalize business plan, and start to research supplier options and distribution networks.
650 Owners - Preconstruction Stage. Identify site options.
700 Owners - Store Design. Seek input from Owners on preferred exterior design features as well as interior design choices (which services are most desired by our Owners...parking, deli, etc). Professional interior and exterior store designers will use Owner feedback to guide the design process.
800 Owners - Site Announcement. The Board can sign a lease once we reach 800 Owners. 800 Owners demonstrates sufficient support and provides the necessary capital to move forward with confidence.
900 Owners - Launch GM Search. The Board will begin a national search for a General Manager. The General Manager will be involved in key operational decisions and oversee store operations.
1000 Owners - Capital Campaign. The Capital Campaign will raise the funds necessary to convert our site into a full-service grocery store. We will rely on a mix of bank loans, non-traditional financing, and Owner loans to fully fund start-up expenses. The most significant chunk of our revenue will be Owner loans, at about 50%. Owner loans are a fundamental method of funding for modern food co-ops. Traditional lenders require 50% Owner funding before making their loan available.
Then we OPEN!