Where are you going to be located?
Whitewater! As far as our address, we have a location that we are currently vetting while we keep an eye out for new sites that might become available. We need to perform another market study, which has to be updated every 1-2 years, as it will provide further information we require for truly selecting a site. We do know that we need adequate parking, easy access and egress, and something close to or on the main roads that run through town. Our current site addresses these issues.
Well, it NEEDS to be on ________ side of town!
We know that people feel very strongly about where the store should be located, but we want to rely on data and due diligence in making that decision. There are a lot of factors to consider such as traffic patterns, parking spaces, easy of access and egress, and the size of the lot. Do we remodel or build new? Buy or lease? We’re going through our most recent market study, which helps us figure out how much money we’ll make in each of the locations that we are looking at. The banks expect this of us in order to get funding. And that market study has given us a lot of the data we need to make a good decision.
What if you don't get enough owners?
I suppose that’s a possibility, however we’re one of the fastest growing cooperative grocery stores in the country! We’ve been signing up owners at an average of 30 per month for the last year, which shows how many people in town think that having a grocery store in town is a priority. We also have a committee meeting weekly to brainstorm new ways to engage new owners. So at this point, we feel very confident that we have the community support we need. We just need to prove it to the banks by methodically growing our ownership.
Am I going to have to pay more later?
Ownership is a one-time, lifetime deal. You don’t have to re-up yearly as you do with a business like Costco. However, part of our model is based on future fundraising from some owners who feel they can invest more heavily in the store, for example owner loans to the store or buying stock in the store. That process will start when we reach 800 owners.
So, it's members only?
Anyone will be able to shop there, Owner or not, but Owners will have special perks. Most co-ops have plans in place to help everyone become an owner. People on limited or fixed incomes might - for example - have a percentage of their purchases go toward an ownership and then will become an owner as that percentage accrues. Whether or not that’s the approach we choose, there will be a plan to make sure everyone feels invested in their community grocery store.
If it's a co-op, does that mean that it's going to be expensive?
Our goal is to serve our community, which means we will have affordable generics and staples such as cereal, rice and potatoes. Remember, this is a community grocer, so if some owners want expensive wine or expensive cheese, we’ll have that too, but it’s not going to be what defines us.
Will you be cheaper than Walmart?
For many items, we will not be able to beat Walmart on pricing, but for other items, we will be more affordable and we will be able to carry items that Walmart doesn't. Additionally, we will work to put money back into the community in the way a corporate grocer doesn't. For more information on co-op prices, check out this resource.
What happens to my money if the store never opens?
While we’re optimistic about the future of the Whitewater Grocery Co., this is a reasonable question from any Owner. The answer is simple. If the Whitewater Grocery Co. fails to open, we will return money to our Owners, minus the expenses incurred in our startup efforts (e.g., Ownership campaign, site search, producing collateral, running our website, hiring consultants, training and development, etc.). This may be all of your money, a portion of your money or it actually may be none of it, depending on where we are in the process. We are committed to carefully managing our costs and our financial health.
Other grocery stores have failed, what makes you different?
The grocery business is a hard business with small margins. When there were 6 grocery stores in town, the majority of them were owned and operated by families who were serving the community. Most of those grocers grew older and had kids who didn’t want to take over the business. The stores didn’t shut down because there was no need for food!
The co-op model serves the community in the same way as your neighborhood grocer and doesn’t need to make a large profit to stay in business, and the business model means that we don’t have to worry about owners growing old and kids not wanting to take over. Co-ops are also very nimble in the same way a family grocer is. As community needs and desires change, the co-op knows right away and can make the necessary changes, much like your family grocer could. Franchises like Sentry depend upon their corporate sponsors with 20-year contracts signed with distribution networks; they can’t change their inventory on a dime and this limits the powers of their franchise owners to make important decisions.
Can I sell my XYZ there?
Our general manager will make those decisions and have regular meetings to talk with local farmers and artisans about selling produce, meat, eggs, and added value products like sauces and mustards. Our mission includes supporting local businesses, and our general manager will be the expert who will coordinate that. Give me your information! We’ve got a survey online that you can fill out online as well so that it gets into our database that we’ll give to our general manager once hired.
What happens if I die before the store is open?
Well, first of all, we hope that doesn’t happen! But you can also think of this an easy way to invest in your community and leave a legacy for future Whitewater families.
I heard that there’s a store coming to Whitewater already. Is that true?
The Common Council has set aside a chunk of money to try to entice a couple of grocers, but they haven't gotten any bites yet. That chunk of money could go to us. It could go to a new store. It’s a wait and see as well as a race to the finish. But the most important thing for the future of Whitewater is that a store is built that is sustainable for the long term. So far, grocers who look to locate here have declined or run into roadblocks.
I have other things I have to pay for first.
We understand that everyone has to prioritize their spending and would never ask anyone to put themselves in financial danger by becoming an Owner. If you think about the amount of gas money you spend each month to shop out of town, we recommend matching that amount to help us build a store faster. You can become an Owner for just $25 a month for six months and start saving that gas money sooner.
When will the store open?
This depends on a handful of factors and big milestones, but we have each stage of the co-op startup process mapped out to include those big milestones with steps to achieve them. Volunteers always help the process move a little more quickly as many hands certainly make lighter work. But our opening date is also determined by the amount of support we have in the community, the funding we gain, and the hiring of a GM to help us get the nuts and bolts of the store in place before opening our doors. We have three timeline scenarios you can check out for a good visual of what's possible if we work hard and work together!