The Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, New Hampshire has only been open for two-and-a-half years, and as the board president Kathy Burke put it, “a lot has been going well.” The co-op has exceeded its sales projections and is seeing a profit that has the board fast-tracking conversations about growth. In the short time that the co-op has been open it has become the hub of the community, and it’s hard to remember a time not too long ago when it didn’t exist. It’s always so busy.
“The community needed something to bring people together. The time was right,” Burke said. Good timing notwithstanding, there were other factors, like strong leadership and planning, that have contributed to the food co-op’s success. Early on in the startup development phases, the people involved knew that they needed to cultivate their ability to lead, and that they couldn’t do it alone. “The CDS Consulting Co-op was a real good ally. It’s what helped make us successful, including the trainings and their support and guidance. It was invaluable,” Burke said. They also joined CBLD in order to give their board ongoing advice and assistance.
One of the challenges for the board is making the necessary governance systems transitions from startup to open store, while almost immediately confronted with questions of growth. One might say it’s a good problem to have. As they have all along, the board and management have worked together to address such issues by continuing to support strong leadership. Before Burke became board president, the former chair coached her on the role, and then stayed on the board during her first year as president to help provide a smooth transition. “He’d been there from the beginning, and it was great working with him,” she said.
Burke also thinks that the board and management’s mutual understanding of the need for systems and structure has contributed to their ability to stay focused. Burke recollected a different co-op experience from years ago when that wasn’t the case. “It was frustrating. It seemed every board meeting we were reinventing the wheel.” It had convinced her that to move forward an organization needs good preparation and a solid decision-making structure. “Establishing that comes from leadership willing to make a commitment to it,” she said.
Burke thinks that above all, it takes practice to get proficient at stepping up and outside the comfort zone. That’s why she finds the Cooperative Cafe events particularly gratifying. It gives their co-op board an opportunity to think about big-picture questions within the context of networking and advice from peers. “Those are the best,” she said. “We have really good conversations.”
As their board looks ahead, they are also thinking about ways to continue to meet member needs. Burke said, “We have an opportunity to do more wonderful things for the community, so we’ll continue to educate ourselves and think about the future.”