No matter what kind of expansion your co-op wants to do, there are always hurdles to be overcome. Everyone has them, although some projects come with a unique set of challenges. The Hendersonville Community Co-op in Hendersonville, North Carolina has had numerous locations and expansions in its 30+ year history, but their latest expansion going from 3,800 to 8,000 square feet, required a re-working of the organization inside out. In the process, the board learned how best to connect with owners and to work with their general manager on determining their leadership roles.
Steve Breckheimer, the current board president, has been a member of the board for the last ten years. He recollected that their planning process began 7 years ago when consultant Bill Gessner came to their co-op to help them assess their readiness for expansion. They realized that they had some work to do, “so we worked on our board and operational readiness,” Breckheimer said. Their project was waylaid for a couple years during the recession, in part, because the store needed to strengthen sales to justify their expansion.
Part of the board’s work during this time was to reincorporate their co-op in North Carolina in order to legally accept financing from owners (the co-op was originally incorporated in Washington, DC because North Carolina law did not recognize consumer co-ops when the co-op was founded). They needed two-thirds of the members of the co-op to approve the reincorporation. The board began a calling campaign and the efforts of the outreach paid off when they secured approval for the reincorporation. The co-op also revised its bylaws. “The phone calls helped us be comfortable with having a relationship with our members. We got a lot of encouragement from our members.”
Breckheimer said that these efforts, and others operationally, were “setting the table for the co-op expansion.” Once they moved ahead with their expansion project, the board decided to launch a campaign for preferred shares, “which was another opportunity to connect with owners,” he said.
The co-op’s expansion was supervised by Damian Tody, the co-op’s general manager. The board built a system of accountable empowerment by clarifying roles and using reporting to ensure compliance with expectations. With the help of board committees, the board’s role was to approve the expansion project and to be visible in raising capital. A team of people worked on the capital campaign, including board members, staff and co-op owners. Three people were charged with following up and securing commitments. “The board felt we needed to step up and help make the expansion happen,” Breckheimer said. The general manager’s role was to control the process of building the store.
The new expansion was celebrated in April this year with more back stock space, a new kitchen, and greater refrigeration capacity. The co-op raised over $800,000 in preferred shares to help finance the $4.1 million dollar project. Looking back on the process, Breckheimer said that he felt that using consultants was essential, as well as the board being focused on their own organizational growth and development. “We cultivated a good relationship with our general manager and build a cohesive board so everyone was working together effectively.”