Business Transition and Local Ownership
*The following story is based on a co-op in the development process.
Synopsis: When the last locally-owned business planned to sell, a remote Métis town had to brainstorm ways to save the business. Things were looking bleak until one community member had the idea to start a co-operative.
As you can imagine, it can sometimes be a challenge to reach remote Northern communities — a struggle that a Métis community of about 1,300 people knows well.
Given its location, travel to and from the community can be difficult — especially in the winter. The food and fuel that reaches the town are expensive. Despite these challenges, local leadership made it a priority that people don’t have to leave town to get everyday items.
The town is home to two important businesses. The first is a grocery store owned by a large Winnipeg-based company. The second is small hardware, fuel, and convenience store that has been locally-owned for generations — but not for much longer.
Recently, the owner of the hardware store decided to retire. Community members thought about taking it over, but the operating costs were just too high.
It looked like the last locally-owned business was going to shut its doors for good.
Word of the store’s closing got to one quick-thinking entrepreneur. He saw an opportunity to keep the business locally-owned while allowing the store to offer additional products to compete with the externally-owned grocery.
His idea? A co-operative.
Having managed a co-operative business in the past, the entrepreneur knew how co-ops work, and that the hardware store could be self-sufficient and locally controlled.
He started talking with town members to gauge interest in his idea — and found them very interested. He quickly assembled a group of leaders from around the town to be the co-op’s steering committee, and they got to work.
They began by reaching out to support organizations for assistance, then to a large grocery wholesaler to provide goods. Then, they needed to incorporate. They reached out to Co-operatives First, and the co-op was born.
As a consumer co-op, the store’s owners are the people who shop there. The money raised from memberships helped the group secure some grant funding and a commercial loan to take over the business.
What’s more, because co-ops are owned by their members, the town’s residents now have a direct say in the business. At the co-op’s first annual general meeting, they decided that any surplus would be reinvested into expanding their grocery product lines — allowing the store to be competitive with the Winnipeg-owned grocery.
With a store owned and operated by the town members, the co-op will ensure that people won’t have to travel far from home to get the things they need.