“What’s going on with the site search?”
When I hear this question, I hear exactly how much the co-op means to the person asking. I hear, “I
care.” “I’m invested.” “I know this community will shop and support our co-op.” “Why is this taking so
long?” “I want my grown kids to move back here one day.” “What’s being done and how well?” “I
believe in this community!” “This isn’t just a store.”
One good thing about being a six-year-old start-up is that most of us have not volunteered in this effort
that entire length of time so we know exactly how it feels to be the asker – not knowing all the details –
but enough to know we’ve been blissfully/painfully close with some sites over the years. This is a
normal experience of start-up co-ops like ours. Most co-ops are incorporated 5-7 years before landing a
site, and many have a potential site or two that got to a certain stage then did not go further. Trials like
that are not indicators of failure, they are indicators of the incredible work of volunteer efforts and a
community of passionate member-owners that keep it moving forward.
This effort is ours – all of ours! The questions our community asks the site team really show the passion
for seeing the Cedar Falls Food Co-op through to the finish line! For example:
“Why is it all so secretive?”
Like any business, we weigh knowns against unknowns to calculate risk. There are four basic
requirements that best determine long-term longevity for food co-ops: size, accessibility, visibility,
parking. The site team determines how well each potential site meets each requirement. On any given
site, two of these requirements may be easily met, another requirement may be barely met, and the
fourth requirement may not be met at all. If the balance is met or nearly met, we move more deeply
into conversations and planning with either a developer or site owner. These conversations are
preliminary, and a deal is not guaranteed at this phase because both parties understand that mutually
beneficial terms must be met, etc. If there is an impasse, it is better for both parties if the work has been
done quietly so both can move on seamlessly to more fitting opportunities.
“Are we too focused on the perfect store that we overlook a good-enough store?”
We recognize that there are have-to-haves and nice-to-haves. To best serve and honor the investments
of all of our owners it is essential that we keep our eyes on a long-range, sustainably successful store.
When we consider sites, we aim to be not so rigid that we lose a great opportunity and not so loose that
we ignore red flags just to see the project done. ‘Done’ isn’t the day the doors open to the public; done
is broader and includes whether we have set up the store for success in years 2 and 3 and 10 and so on.
We use tools like financial proformas to determine a site’s feasibility based on the total area of the
store, the sales area, likely sales per square foot parking, visibility, and location. Those factors involve
planning, due diligence and reliable execution.
“It seems like our requirements are too narrow.”
They are not. For years we have collaborated with 40+ nation-wide food co-op start-ups in phases just
like ours, as well as non-profits built specifically around supporting food co-op start-ups. Their purpose is
to provide guideposts in the form of data and experience from successful – and unsuccessful – food co-
ops. The information available to food co-ops is reliable, specific, and well-tested. The site team and
other committees are in communication with these organizations and peer start-ups weekly. The top
reasons that co-ops fail: choosing a site that is too small or a site with poor visibility. Grocery is not an
easy business and good site selection is crucial. Settling on a site that is too small (or too big) or does not
meet our other basic requirements would likely result in lower sales per square foot, and potentially in
ultimate failure. We are using facts and data collected objectively over many years and shared freely
among co-ops to choose a site that will ensure the co-op’s success.
“How do the members of the site team really feel?”
The Site Team is excited. We are proud to do this good work for our community! We realize that the
community (ourselves included) has been waiting for the store to come to life for a long time. We know
that the time is now, and we are working very hard to make it happen!
“At the annual member-owner meeting in October, I listened to the presentation about the sites that
didn’t work out. What’s happened since then? Is there good news?”
Yes. Here is what the site team has done in the past quarter (March – May).
● Identified/vetted and prioritized 14 sites within our market area (downtown and outward to 18 th
street and highway 58 area)
● Onboarded realtor, Deanna Wheeler, donating several hours per week digging into courthouse
records, researching the co-op industry/requirements, investigating off-market potentials,
hitting the streets, spreading the word, contacting developers and property owners
● 15+ calls/meetings with developers/property owners
● 5 board meetings including site reports and solicitation of board input
● 3 site team meetings, with assignments executed
● digital site tracking updates
● 3 meetings with peer co-op start-ups
● FB Live event devoted just to site search history and facts to spread the word and elicit even
Also, we are narrowing in on a few excellent prospects as we write this. As you know, this does not
guarantee we have our golden ticket, but it means we are pouring all we have into what Deanna and the
site team have cultivated to-date.
Thank you for asking great questions, wondering about, and trusting our work. We are a great team of
five volunteers: Christine Sexton, Tom Wickersham, Terry Stewart, Kate Dunning and Deanna Wheeler.
If you have questions that were not noted here, or if you just want to talk more, email us and ask for
your question to go to Kate.
Kate Dunning, Site Team Chair