Astoria Food Co-op
Year founded: 1974
Member investment: $200
Number of members: 4,200
Number of employees: 25
Retail square feet: 2,000 currently (7,000 Summer 2019)
The town of Astoria, Oregon has a strong independent streak. While other nearby areas are overrun with chain stores, their town has not sustained that level of attention or development. That doesn’t mean the 10,000 people who live there don’t want nice amenities, efficiency and convenience. The difference is that they are willing to create those opportunities for development from within their own community.
Matthew Stanley, the Astoria Co-op Grocery’s general manager said, “Finding a developer to work with a co-op in a small town was not easy. We could’ve gone to box-store-land, but that’s not what our members wanted.”
Now they are poised to nearly quadruple the Astoria Co-op Grocery store based on the $1.63 million-dollar investment total made by their members. “We’ve heard a resounding ‘yes’ from people,” said Stanley, about the co-op’s expansion. Thanks to such strong member investment, in one year they will be opening a store built from the ground up, that will include a 45-spot parking lot, in a much more visible location. The expanded co-op will focus on fresh perimeter departments with a deli, salad bar, produce, meat and an indoor and outdoor seating area.
Getting to yes was part of a year-long planning process that sought to involve many key stakeholders. “We took a year to do engagement with the community and co-op members. We also had great consultants that we worked with,” Stanley said. As part of their process they created a strategic plan. “We wanted to do it methodically and we wanted to be prepared.”
As part of that preparation process, Stanley worked with CDS Consulting Co-op consultants Jeanie Wells and Melanie Reid to work on organizational capacity and human resources development. With startup and campaign specialist Ben Sandel, he got the support he needed for launching the capital campaign while managing Astoria’s growing internal capacity. “We wanted to keep our momentum going as well as figure out the right timing to do the capital campaign offering.”
Stanley turned to the Capital Campaign Workbook as an overview of the process and highly recommends it for anyone. “It’s a great workbook that pretty much became my Bible for the capital campaign. My copy is ragged now.”
One of the things Stanley realized early on after reading the workbook was how important it was to convey the story of why member investment was needed and necessary. “Ben Sandel was key to this. He helped us with that preparation and doing readiness activities. By the launch we had a great group of volunteers and FAQs for the public.”
Sandel also helped them understand how to explain co-op investing to people, and with their messaging clear, they created a promotional video and talked about it on social media. They also shared their plans of what the new store could look like with members and the community. “It was powerful for people to see it.” Stanley attributes their success with the capital campaign to “following the book.” “Read it long before you need to do it.”
One aspect of the capital campaign Stanley noted was how it really got at the heart of the co-op’s identity—which is in a process of change because of the expansion. “We decided to grow to serve a broader audience in the community, not just adherents to the core, but to be more welcoming to more people through our marketing, pricing and products.”
Stanley said the co-op is evolving into something new, and that the capital campaign was a profound way to change people’s perceptions of what the co-op is all about. “People were pretty excited to see members investing locally, watching it take shape, and having the opportunity to participate in a development in real life.”Add to favorites