Do you ever wonder about the PROCESS of building a grocery store?

StagesThere is a lot of work behind-the-scenes to build any business up from scratch. In every industry, there is a set of best practices and luckily, in the food co-op industry, we have access to those practices.

First, it's important to remember that a cooperative is a business ownership structure, not an end product. We are, all of us together as Owners, a co-op. We are building a grocery store. A lot of times people will say "co-op" when referring to the store and that's ok. But it's important to remember that the co-op is the people building and owning the store. 

For decades now, cooperatively owned grocery stores have been built by communities to meet their direct needs, such as access to organic or local foods. In recent years, with the trends of corporate and franchise grocers leaving small towns and urban centers, more co-ops are being started to build grocery stores that serve the whole community.

The Food Co-op Initiative studies food co-ops and helps them through the startup process. They recommend a roadmap (we affectionately call it "the cookbook") for success called the Four Cornerstones in Three Stages Model or 4 in 3. Because Stage 2 has two sub-stages, we think of it as more of a 4 in 4 model. 

Stage 1: Organization brings about the cooperative. This was accomplished when we incorporated (after much research and decision making) and the first 50 Owners signed up on night one!

Stage 2A: Feasibility is where we do the research part of the project. This is where we work to define what type of store will meet the needs of Whitewater and then test the viability of the store in a number of ways. We are working through this stage right now. 
To move out of Stage 2A into Stage 2B, we need to assess and prove feasibility in four key areas: 
1. Market: is there are a market for the store and if so, what size store? 
2. Financial: can we afford to build the store and if so, can we cover our ongoing expenses given the projected sales from our market analysis?
3. Organizational: do we have enough talent and support to move on to the next stage?
4. Site: is there a site suitable for our store that meets the market and financial feasibility test?

Once we check all of those boxes (and we're close, by the way), we can move on to...

Stage 2B: Planning is where we fine-tune our business plan and finance our project. It's also the stage were we start store design and begin looking for our store's talented General Manager. 

Stage 3: Implementation is where we start the process of physically building out the store, prepare to open, and plan for the first year of operation. After that, we own an operational grocery store and we can celebrate together at the grand opening!

At every stage, it's important that we check in on our four cornerstones to ensure we have the capacity to take on the next step:

1. Vision: the clear articulation of the hopes and dreams of the group. The vision is specific to our local needs and gets refined through the stages as we learn more. It reflects our core values and our purpose. 

2. Talent: those invested in the co-op’s success. The talent is made up of volunteers and paid consultants or employees. Most of the talent at Whitewater Grocery Co. is currently voluntary. Our Board of Directors and committee members put in a lot of hours to do the work described above. 

3. Capital: the financial resources necessary for all stages of development. In the early stages, our Owners' investment of $150 each covers our capital needs. We were also fortunate to receive two grants to help us get a jump start. When the expensive part of the project begins (building or renovating the physical store) we will need to capitalize the project in a bigger way. 

4. Systems: organized, integrated, coordinated, and interdependent methods for running the business and moving it forward. Our systems include all of the legal, marketing, financial, and governance tools that we use. These tools are constantly under evaluation so that we can continuously improve as we grow. 

Learn more about the 4 in 3 Model here:

If this is interesting and exciting to you, please consider being a part of Cornerstone 2: Talent. As we continue to grow, we need more help to push this project forward. This means people who are subject matter experts and doers willing to jump into a leadership role. 

To learn more about where we are in the Feasibility process and what we need to do before we can move on to Stage 2B, join us at our Annual Owners' Meeting on October 14.
Or come to any Board meeting. Owners are always invited!

If you have additional questions or want to raise your hand for a leadership role, contact us at