When Anne Hopkins, general manager of Good Foods Co-op in Lexington, Kentucky, read the Expansion Toolbox written by Bill Gessner, she breathed a sigh of relief—but only after her second reading. Facing the overpowering nature of an expansion project can do that to you. The handbook on what to expect from an expansion or relocation helped Hopkins demystify the process, and now she can’t see doing her new project without its guidance.
Hopkins also believes, given the learning curve, expansions are not do-it-yourself projects. She’s using the toolbox as an orientation to expansion planning in conjunction with ongoing, periodic consultations with Gessner.
The toolbox is a 60+ page guide to managing a project from beginning to end, including everything involved: assessing feasibility, budgeting, financing, policies and co-op readiness. It’s a very easy-to-read compendium that helps with knowing how to proceed and when.
“At first I thought, I can’t possibly do an expansion, but then I realized I don’t have to do this myself, and that there are steps you can take to break it down. I had pie-in-the-sky ideas. This book brought me back to reality,” Hopkins said. Hopkins had never done an expansion before, and now she’s in the midst of expanding her store another 3,000 square feet, and feeling like she’s on solid ground.
“I had no clue where to start,” she said about expansions, but after she got the toolbox she started with the sources and uses budgeting tool, and has proceeded to use a co-op self-diagnostic that helps assess organizational readiness with her management staff. “It was wonderful for staff to see what’s required,” she said of the process.
However, some of the most valuable information in the book has come via the school of hard knocks. “I love the anecdotes from the other co-ops, their ideas, but what’s also to be avoided,” she said. Hopkins noted that a previous expansion at Good Foods had caused a lot of problems.
Gessner said that typically people underestimate two things about expansions, mostly having to do with poor budgeting of time and money.
“Planning minimizes unpleasant surprises, and a project manager can help with that.” The toolbox can help insure that you understand what you can expect and make better, informed decisions. “When I work with people who have read the book, I find they ask better questions and know what they want.” The time and money spent on consultation can be focused on the many complex issues that come up, rather than just the basics and getting started.
Bill Gessner wrote the book on co-op expansions, and it’s now available to co-op managers and board members through Co-op Grocer, 800-878-7333, www.cooperativegrocer.coop/cg_special.html and Northcountry Co-op Development Fund, 612-331-9103, www.ncdf.org. Both organizations offer a bulk discount for orders of five or more. Also check their websites for even more toolbox titles available.