stephanie-elliott-415The Chico Natural Foods Co-op in Chico, California has experienced exponential growth in the past few years after a long period of time as a static business. It has been alternately exhilarating and challenging for the co-op to manage so much change, but when individuals step up with the necessary leadership, organizations can really go the distance. The food co-op and its community is reaping the benefits of their dedication to strategic planning.

The co-op started in 1972 as a buying club, and for the better part of three decades was housed as a nonprofit retail in a church basement. It was rather inaccessible to the community, and evolved very slowly, with sales topping out at $500,000 per year. Then in 2001 the membership voted to convert to a legal cooperative, and in 2004 completed the process with the state of California. Shortly thereafter, the co-op launched sales of $300 member equity shares to help finance a move out of the church basement.

They moved to a historic building downtown with 3,300 square foot retail and 16 parking spaces in 2006. Their sales for 2011 were $4.4 million, and the co-op is thriving. In addition to all the retail changes, the board also hired an effective general manager, adopted Policy Governance, wrote their Ends policies, revised their bylaws, and are now looking to switch from discounts to patronage dividends. The co-op is once again at a crossroads regarding the future. They believe they need to expand again.

According to Stephanie Elliott, the co-op’s board president, they are doing research to prepare for the switch to patronage dividends and doing an assessment of their current building and market. Whew! She described Chico as a very active community, and the co-op’s growth in sales and leadership is reflective of a town that wants to capitalize on such positive energy.

The board has a goals committee, made up of everyone on the board, that specifically focuses on what they want to do and what they want to achieve. They are going through practical steps, like making a board calendar that addresses issues throughout the year, ensuring things get done in a timely manner with accountability. Elliott said that their CBLD consultant Todd Wallace has been a great source of information. “He’s brought us a lot of resources that help us do this planning,” she said. “We all have a lot of passion for it,” Elliott said. “We’re strengthening things, no longer in survival mode. It’s a great time to take an active role in making long term plans.”

Visit Chico Natural Foods Co-op online at www.chiconatural.com.

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