Start a Co-op


Preparing a retail grocery store to open is the final stage of a food co-op’s pre-opening development, and perhaps the most challenging and exciting of all.

 Like every stage of the co-op’s journey, it has its unique set of challenges and rewards.  There is a lot to celebrate, but there is still quite a bit of work to be done before and after ribbon-cutting day when the doors finally open.

When opening a retail grocery cooperative, one of the biggest challenges is prioritizing where to put your energy.  That’s why it is important to divide startup tasks into manageable phases.  The checklist we’ve created here presents a systematic and practical approach to thinking about your co-op’s operation, where to focus your attention and when to have certain systems firmly in place.

We strongly recommend establishing operational systems prior to opening your store, then adjusting them to meet your needs as you grow.  Once management and facilities are in place and a realistic budget and adequate capitalization have been established (enough to cover operating losses and negative cash flow for one to two years), the co-op is ready to begin operations.  

We can assist you with establishing best practices in the following areas that will contribute to your success:


Pre-opening 6 months to 1 month prior:

Safety and Security:  Our experts will assist you in setting up essential safety and security systems, policies and procedures, to help guide your co-op from day one, including critical access controls, loss prevention, emergency preparedness, and safety and security trainings for your entire staff.

Branding:  At this stage, the co-op can begin the next level of planning by developing marketing communication strategies.  The best strategies will establish a clear plan of action for building a robust market for the co-op’s products and bringing in shoppers.

Management/Staff Training:  Invest in training that supports Key Operational Performance Indicators (sales growth, margin, labor, and inventory) for department managers.  This is an important step towards building a successful and sustainable retail business.  A staff skilled in the technical requirements of the job, with an emphasis on customer service, is the number one way to create success for both the short and long term.

Meat Department Development and Training:  Meat is a signature department of your co-op, and creating customer loyalty requires careful planning and execution.  Meat continues to be a strong growth category and capturing your community’s meat purchases from the start can greatly impact total store performance.  Open with an expert in the field at hand to help you through a challenging time for all start-ups.

Produce Department Development and Training:  Produce is a highly perishable product line that drives customer traffic.  Let us assist you with systems development, preferred merchandising practices, purchasing and shrink management, and general produce storage and handling procedures to optimize your produce department’s performance.

Prepared Foods Department Development:  The Prepared Foods department can generate excitement as well as high margined sales.  It is also one of the more difficult departments to get up and running.  Getting it right from the start can add dollars to your bottom line as well as create a loyal customer base.  We will assist you by training your staff to present a dynamic merchandising approach to maximize sales as well as control labor and manage your margin.

Organizational structure:  We can work with your team to define the most appropriate organizational structure that will best allow your co-op to function effectively while it grows.  A fluid structure that allows for reasonable growth and does not need continual change typically best serves the co-op and creates consistency for staff.



Meat Department Onsite Support/Training:  Let us continue to answer your questions, suggest proven practices and analyze your operations to maximize service and profitability.

Produce On-Site Assessment and Training:  Have a skilled veteran assess your department’s systems, merchandising and customer service, and offer your team suggestions for improvement.

Prepared Foods Department Onsite Support/Training:  We offer strategic assistance after opening to ensure your systems are effective and efficient and your merchandising is dynamic.  Let us help you modify and initiate further positive changes and on-going improvements and training to achieve your planned goals.

Key Operational Performance Indicators review and suggestions for improvement:  We can review every department’s key metrics remotely and help you focus on the most critical issues.  We can also make a site visit and work with management and staff to improve specific performances.

Merchandising Review:  Ensure everything you do enhances the shopping experience of your customers.  Product selection, pricing, placement, promotion and presentation along with customer service will all be reviewed during an on-site visit and follow up report.

Marketing Review:  After opening is an excellent time to review your marketing plan, and focus your internal and external communication efforts.  Next steps will be to assess your approach to the communications mix, and ensure your plans are meeting your strategic goals.

For support developing and implementing store systems, see Improve Operations.

Associated Consultants

Garland McQueen

Operational and Financial Improvement, Interim Management Solutions

Jeanie Wells

Capacity Assessment, Transitional Planning and Coaching

Mel Braverman

Operational and Financial Improvement

Paul Feiner, LPC

Loss Prevention Strategies & Solutions

Associated Case Studies

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