Community-Owned Grocery takes another step toward opening of store with capital campaign
WILLMAR -- The Community-Owned Grocery in Willmar has reached its final stage before construction and is kicking off a capital investment campaign to receive more financial support from member-owners before breaking ground.
WILLMAR - The Community-Owned Grocery in Willmar has reached its final stage before construction and is kicking off a capital investment campaign to receive more financial support from member-owners before breaking ground.
Russ Bennett, president of the COG board of directors, said the group hopes to raise another $600,000 by Oct. 10 through its “Invest Locally - Build the COG!” campaign. This opportunity is available only to current member-owners.
Bennett said he hopes COG will reach 1,000 member-owners, start construction in January and open its doors during the first half of next year.
“We think that there are still a lot of people out there that can see our vision and feel our passion,” said Bennett. “The one thing we all have in common is we all love food. I think the desire to be healthy and to eat food that’s good for us.”
It was almost exactly two years ago that COG announced it had reached the milestone of having 300 member-owners who had invested $200 each toward the launch of a community-owned full-service grocery store in Willmar. COG now has 640 member-owners and a site at the corner of U.S. Highway 12 and Lakeland Drive in rental space located inside the Westside Liquor building.
Proceeds from the investment campaign will be used for store design, construction, salaries and equipment. The COG board of directors is seeking a general manager for the store.
Board member Mary Catherwood, who is leading the investment campaign, said it is an essential part of the COG project.
“A successful investment campaign will start our co-op with a strong foundation,” Catherwood said. “Raising some startup capital from owners is a normal part of opening a co-op and key to bringing a full-service, community-owned grocery store to Willmar. Each member of the COG board of directors has already made a pre-commitment to the campaign.”
According to information provided by COG, the member-owners may invest by making a loan to COG or by purchasing nonvoting preferred shares. The COG board also will be securing loans and grants as part of the overall funding package.
A rough sketch of the store interior, inspired by design elements of other successful community-owned grocery stores, has also been rendered.
“It’s going to be modern, fresh, clean, bright and very professional,” said Bennett. “I think it’s going to be first class.”
Bennett said he thinks COG will be a success and have a great return on investment for its owners.
“People like me, I’m really excited about being able to buy fresh, local product,” said Bennett. “The return on investment is determined by the Board of Directors. The more people that come in the store and shop, the faster we will be able to pay back our investors.”
While one does not have to be a member of the co-op to shop at COG, members will receive special in-store discounts. COG continues to seek new members as well.
He said that, while COG has goals like keeping food local and keeping food healthy, it also has a goal of creating a community. In addition to having a vision of offering fresh meat, vegetables, grains and more, COG has already started offering cooking classes open to the public.
Bennett has been a member of COG for about two years and said he got involved with the group because he likes to support local businesses.
“I got involved mostly because I’m a big Chamber of Commerce guy,” said Bennett. “I was the past president of the Willmar Chamber and I was a board member for six years on the Minnesota Chamber. I love to spend my money locally and what better way to spend my food dollars than to have someone at the edge of town grow it for me.”
Bennett is a seasoned entrepreneur, owning four of his own businesses. He said COG is the ultimate opportunity for an entrepreneur.
“My share of the co-op gave me the right to apply for the Board of Directors position,” said Bennett. “The members control it and I represent the members and member’s interests. My $200 investment to become a member gives me a voice.”
COG member-owners can learn more about the capital campaign at upcoming meetings with the COG board of directors on Tuesday, Sept. 20 and Sept. 30. More information about these meetings can be found online at willmarcog.com/events-2.
Other information about the Willmar COG can be found at willmarcog.com.