Expansion Updates

>> Sharon Hoyer, General Manager.

A GROWING MOVEMENT. (June 24, 2014)

Last week, five Dill Picklers attended the Consumer Cooperative Management Association's annual conference, the biggest gathering of food co-ops in the country. Boy did we get inspired! Almost 600 cooperators--from co-ops 40 years old to those in the planning stages, those that have a few hundred members to those with over 30,000, from less than a million in sales to over $20 million per year--shared their stories, their knowledge and their high fives. We learned a ton and got a stronger sense of how the mighty Pickle is part of a large and growing movement.

We're not the only co-op expanding this year; dozens of food cooperatives are expanding their floor space or adding second or third (or fourth!) stores. Many have expanded capacity outside the walls of the store, like People's Co-op in Kalamazoo, which starting managing the K-zoo farmers market last year. Meeting folks who have shepherded successful expansions was tremendously valuable and, even more exciting, was to see the many ways food co-ops take shape; all share values and principles, but no two are the same.

The CCMA conference was a great opportunity to cherry pick ideas from the strongest co-ops in the country, like the unparalleled customer service standards and front end systems at Wheatsville Co-op in Austin, or the amazing community programs at Weavers Way Co-op in Pennsylvania, or the phenomenal board and staff leadership at River Valley Market in Northampton, Massachusetts. These stellar cooperatives really spark the imagination. After all, our physical store is just one part of the Dill Pickle. As it grows, so too will our community and our capacity to foster more great cooperative work in Chicago. This preparatory stage of expansion is a great time to evaluate our strengths and our weaknesses, forge new partnerships, and together build the plan for a Dill Pickle that serves as a model for other new co-ops in our city.



Last week, I talked at some length about the four feasibility aspects of an expansion project—site, financial, design, and organizational—how they’re interrelated and developed in tandem. With so much focus on where the site will be, what it will look like and how much it will cost, the organizational work can sometimes feel secondary. This isn’t the case with the talented staff and board of the Dill Pickle! As a young co-op, learning and growing is in our DNA; our whipsmart, creative crew is excited to take on more responsibility, increase outreach and programming, and make our co-op better every day, before expansion and after.

And sharing information is part of the international co-op philosophy; you’ll see it hanging on our wall near the front window—Principle 6: cooperation among co-ops. Three members of our staff just returned from People’s Food Co-op in Kalamazoo, MI, where they met with their counterparts and learned how another great co-op navigated a major expansion. The good folks in K-zoo exemplified P6, hosting Dana Norden, our perishables lead, Amber Zook, our new produce lead, and Ally Young, our HOO and communications coordinator, giving them a store tour, answering questions one-on-one, and inviting them into their management meeting. Great ideas were shared both ways and new friendships were formed. Next week, two board members and two staff members (including yours truly), head to Madison for the annual CCMA food co-op conference…the biggest in the country! I can’t wait to report back what we learn about ushering Dill Pickle smoothly into a new home.



After weeks of interviewing fantastic, like-minded architecture firms, we're excited to introduce you to the Dill Pickle expansion design team! Together, our architect and store designer will take the co-op's dreams (seating, community room, more produce and bulk, a deli, juice bar, owner services counter, meeting and office space) and show us ways to bring them to life in the spaces we're pursuing…with attention to sustainable and beautiful design, of course!

It may sound odd to hire an architect before a lease is signed, but it's actually quite important for us to have our designers involved in the early stages of the project; they'll create equipment lists and construction drawings that put real numbers to our projected budget. Lenders need to see how money will be spent on the new co-op. And we've picked the design team to show them just how exciting the Dill Pickle will be! So, without further ado I give you:

Architect: Matt Nardella of Moss Design

Matt Nardella, AIA, LEED-AP Architect / Founder / Bike Warrior After graduating from the NewSchool of Architecture and spending nearly a decade designing sustainable architecture in San Diego, Matt returned to the character building climate of his native Chicago to found moss. His work is known for utilizing site orientation, creative use of green building techniques, and sustainable building materials. Matt understands the urban environment and how to sustain it as a community for all living things, and volunteers for the 47th Ward Green Council, Openlands Project where he is a volunteer Treekeeper, and as a guest laborer at Peasant’s Plot Farm. He has lectured on sustainable architecture and urban design nationwide. Matt enjoys The New York Times, cooking, wood working, and hydrology. He is not a fan of golf or flaxseed.

Store designer: Nicole Klimek of CDS Consulting Co-op

Nicole Klimek has always loved co-ops going back to when she was a child shopping with her mom at Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville, Minn. Throughout the years she has channeled this passion for community and cooperation and merged it with her expertise in development and design. Nicole specializes in food co-op store design in her work with CDS Consulting Co-op. She is interested in how communities are created through good design, and sees food co-ops as a big part of what makes a place livable. Nicole’s grocery store plans incorporate green practices, including LEED certification, efficient operations, and comfortable shopping experiences. “Co-ops are focused on their communities and they want to bring good things to them when they do a project. I do too. I believe in respecting the environment and knowing where things come from—whether it’s food, clothes, or building materials,” she said.



Later this week, Board Director Gajus Miknaitis and I will visit Lombard to tell the Dill Pickle story to the energetic, fast-growing group organizing Prairie Food Co-op. The staff and board of the Dill Pickle are called on to tell our story quite a lot: to prospective owners in the store every day, to emerging co-ops in other parts of the city and suburbs, to schools and community groups (e.g. the outreach committee's recent visit to Ames school's Elev8 program), to leaders in the community helping us with expansion, and now to a whole new audience: institutional lenders.

To tell a story well, it helps to know your audience; what are they most interested in? What are their values? The lenders we're talking with--a community loan fund, a cooperative bank, business improvement funds--share our vision for what makes a healthy community, environment and economy. For that part of our story we have rapt attention. But there's another important part to tell, the part about our future success. We need to demonstrate that we run a financially sound business now and will do so on a much larger scale for a decade to come. I wish I had a couple bankers grocery shopping with me yesterday, when I had to wait in line to make my way through the produce section. It was our top sales day to date, the first time we broke 5-digit sales in a single day.

We need to tell this story in narrative and numbers to lenders and to our greater neighborhood. You'll soon see a call for Hands-On Owners to join the finance committee, ownership drive committee and owner loan committee. If you enjoy telling the story of the scrappy start up you own, the one that reintroduced Chicago to retail food co-ops, I hope you'll consider joining a team.


ONWARD! (April 2014)

This week, I'd like to send a shout out to our institutional loan committee, who have spent the last two weeks filling out applications, reviewing the budget and meeting with potential lenders to help finance our bigger, better co-op. Big thanks to Zina Murray, Joan Pikas, and board prez Kevin Monahan for their hard work and ongoing research. Extra special thanks--and a fond farewell--to committee member Todd Edwards who, before leaving for a position out of state, helped us apply for $100,000 grant from the city. Todd is off to do great things at a climate change policy NGO/think tank in Iowa City; he will be dearly missed! Thanks for sharing your time and brilliance with the Dill Pickle, Todd!

What's next? Once our organizational funders are lined up, we'll be able to move forward on a lease and relaunch our owner loan drive! A lot of groundwork goes into a successful drive--and fortunately a lot was done on our first round of loans last fall--but we'd like to put our owner loan team together in the next week or two to begin gathering materials and strategizing for the big push when we announce our site. Want to be a part of this vital team? Send me a line at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  Onward!



From Lisa Junkin, Board President 

At present, we are actively looking for the co-op’s new home. A site search committee led by Sharon has spent the last few months meeting with our local Aldermen, talking with landlords and developers, and viewing potential buildings. As always it is important that we maintain confidentiality about potential locations, but if you are interested in the details of our search criteria, you will find them listed within the co-op’s governance policies.

To summarize:
1. We need to get bigger. Currently the board considers this to mean that we should at least triple our size, growing the store to more than 5000 square feet. This will allow us to expand our departments, a stated desire of co-op owners in surveys over the last two years.
2. We intend to stay within a one-mile radius from the current store in order to maintain the relationship we have with our beloved Logan Square community.
3. We want our new store to have ample bike and car parking to support our growing clientele.
4. Owners and staff have asked that we create space within the new store for demonstrations, classes and gatherings to expand the vitality of the Dill Pickle community. Beyond negotiating these specific needs and desires, the board remains focused on the larger intent behind this expansion. In addition to gaining needed breathing room, moving into a bigger location will allow the staff to purchase more local, clean and fair products at bulk prices. Our goal is not to become a boutique grocery store, but a resource for the whole community.

As our cooperative principles outline, we exist for the good of our community. As an independent, locally owned business, the Dill Pickle puts about 70% more money back into the local economy than chain stores do. As a cooperative business, we operate democratically and will always work to fulfill the vision that you, our owners, have generated.

Expanding the store will allow us to better fulfill our mission to offer healthy food choices and the benefits of cooperative practice to build a vibrant local community and more sustainable world. All co-op owners are invited to attend our monthly board meetings to hear extended discussions of our progress. Meetings are held on the third Saturday of each month from 10 am – 1 pm at the Logan Square Library.

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