By all accounts, River Valley Market, a startup food co-op in Northampton, Mass., has knocked it out of the park. Since their co-op opened in 2008, they have blown past sales projections by millions of dollars, and have far exceeded their ten-year sales goals in year five. The community is thrilled with their co-op, and their achievements have made the long wait to open (nine years) worth it. Since opening, their startup has been on track for success.
Both the board and management credit each other with the skills and stick-to-itiveness that the co-op needed during its startup phase. This isn’t just about touchy-feely goodness. It’s clear that the benefits of their positive relationship have contributed to the co-op’s bottom-line results.
“The attitude of collaboration is the key to our successful relationship,” said Jade Barker, River Valley Market’s board president. “We’re in it together.” Barker explained that there will be times when people make mistakes or misunderstandings may occur, and that it’s important to keep in mind that the board and management’s job is to work cooperatively with many stakeholders. “Part of it is having a good general manager, and part of it is the board knowing how to use its authority properly.”
Barker also said that it’s critical to go into the relationship with a partnership mindset, rather than one that’s heavily oversight-related, an approach based on trust and mutual respect the River Valley Market board has cultivated over the years. “The board has their role of presenting the members perspective, and the general manager is the expert in running a business. We need each other to be successful.” She also added that it’s important to “be appreciative.” Barker noted that as boards are mindful of staff treatment, they also need to treat their manager well. “That one relationship shows the community a lot about a board’s values,” she said.
In the lifecycle of a startup, one of the most critical junctures is when the co-op opens. At that point the general manager is fully engaged in store operations. Rochelle Prunty, the co-op’s general manager said, “Before all my attention was on working closely with the board, and then I was working with 75 employees and opening a store.” From her perspective weathering those challenges was easier because both the board and herself had planned for the change, and kept focused on the co-op’s vision. She also said that both the board and management sought professional advice throughout their project, which kept stress from getting the upper hand during difficult times. Now that the years have passed from startup to opening, new leadership is emerging. “Having a system and a strong commitment to partnership with the general manager and board is an important component of our success,” Prunty said.
To learn more about River Valley Market, visit www.rivervalley.coop.