On Wednesday night at the Toowoomba Community Health Meeting I touched on how to start and run a successful co-op with the help of two other co-op admin of the Toowoomba Co-op. On the night we explored the different co-ops that run through the facebook page in the course of the year, as well as some considerations to make before starting your own. Here are my top tips:
1. Deciding on your co-op
When I first started my co-ops I merely asked myself what my favourite and most expensive health products were. For me that was a nice organic hair dresser-grade Shampoo and Conditioner, and Changing Habits products. Whatever products you enjoy you are sure to find others in our community who share your need/love for them and would like them at a more affordable price.
2. Researching what it will take
We all agreed that careful consideration before starting a co-op is necessary. For example, Jayne would like to buy organic meat at a more affordable price from local farmers, however she does not have the storage facilities required for people to pick up the meat and therefore it is not practical for her to start this.
Some companies may also have contracts with distributors which means that they may not be open to selling wholesale priced goods to co-ops. It is important to remain transparent when dealing with companies and wholesaling for co-ops to maintain the integrity of these groups. Not to mention, the relationships you build with these companies are priceless.
3. Organising a co-op
Please note that you do not make a profit from co-ops; there can be a lot of time and effort involved in their organisation. Things you will need to do include:
- gathering orders
- communicating with both customers and businesses
- placing orders
- dealing with money
- preparing orders for customers
Sometimes we have had up to $30,000 worth of orders placed with certain companies, which can mean a lot of our own time. Ensure that you are aware of this and have the capabilities of doing this, however, it is a very rewarding job helping others (not to mention you get your favourite products at a discounted price!)
4. Create Systems and Routines
Let's be honest, the first few co-ops are likely to be a crash-course practice- that's what starting something new is all about! But it's important in this time to be noting what you're learning and creating some systems and routines to make things easier. While this may be a little time consuming upfront, it will save you oodles in the long run! By letting your co-op customers know when you regularly will be placing orders (for example every month) they will be able to place orders with you as you go, knowing when the deadlines are, without you having to chase to get your wholesale $$$ requirement. Furthermore, by creating your invoice templates, and having a system in place for how you like to order so it's just a matter of inserting the data and sending it away, you will save time and mucking around. A simple way to do this is setting up an exel spreadsheet. As you begin to know what customer favourites are you may be able to set it up with the most popular items in advance.
It is very advantageous to create great relationships with the companies you purchase from as well, as they will likely help you with their tools and resources e.g. order forms, or information, or even quick co-ops. You never know what might come up and having a good relationship with them means they will likely give you all the help they can.
5. Share what you're doing with friends and family
Get them on board! Many of our regular co-op runners have family members or friends who have started their own co-ops or helped with existing co-ops after hearing about what they can do! Many hands makes for light work, and in the case of co-ops, a healthier and happier community.
If you have any further questions about starting your own co-op, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org