Starting a business is hard work. It’s even harder when you’re a group of volunteers whose main goal isn’t to make money, but rather to make the community a healthier and better place.
“It is amazing when we think of what the volunteers have done,” said Tracy Flucke, vice president of the New Leaf Market Board of Directors. “It seems like there is a never-ending source of things to do. We are lucky to have some really smart people on the board, and that has helped. If someone doesn’t have an answer, they know where to get it.”
The board members have been working on the idea of forming a cooperative since 2008 when a group of people envisioned a market that would provide better access to healthy food, expand the local economy by encouraging new local food enterprises, and enhance the economic and cultural vitality of the greater Green Bay area.
New Leaf Market Cooperative has been in the works since, and Flucke said she has learned a great deal about business and the need for flexibility.
Initially, the group was set on a location in downtown Green Bay, and for several years, that was the focus. However, when it became apparent that wasn’t going to work, the group changed direction.
“We had to make a choice," Flucke said. "Do we abandon this or do we try a new arena? That’s when we decided to do a market study to look at seven different areas.”
As a result, the location was changed to the east side of De Pere and a site located on N. Wisconsin St. The survey showed that the area was ideal. It had plenty of parking, affordability, enough square footage, great visibility and preferred demographics. Profitability was projected within three years.
A business plan was developed with assistance from the UW-Green Bay Small Business Development Center, SCORE, national cooperative organizations and volunteers with extensive business experience. The national groups helped with statistics and in setting up a mission statement and bylaws. The cooperative would raise startup funds through grants, a loan and memberships.
“The first target members were pretty easy to come by,” Flucke said. “They were already sold on it, but beyond this, it gets tougher. We still have our push on to reach 1,500 members. It can be tough for people not familiar with cooperatives to understand what it is, and why it’s a benefit to them and the community.”
With over 900 members, Flucke is trying to get the word out to increase that number. She says that a major difference between typical grocery stores and New Leaf Market is that with New Leaf, the members own the store and profit goes back to them and the local farmers and producers. Members get a say in what is sold in the store and how the cooperative functions.
But, it is also much more than that. Flucke says it is a social community.
“There are events and activities, and I’d like it to be a place where you can come in and shop, maybe sit down at the café and have a cup of coffee, or head upstairs for a cooking class or lecture from a farmer,” she said.
The upstairs will include a demonstration kitchen with a classroom. If a person is in need of advice for a gluten-free or diabetic diet, for example, they will likely find an upcoming lecture. There will also be space for offices and possibly a complementary business.
“This is more than a membership to a grocery store," Flucke said. "It is getting involved with other people who are like-minded and concerned about fair-priced, locally grown products that help local farmers, producers and the community to be successful. It keeps the money with our local businesses, and is something that can change our community.”
As New Leaf heads toward a planned opening about a year from now, the board is looking for a general manager and hoping to continue signing up new members. For lower-income families, scholarships are available to pay part of the membership fee. There are about 100 volunteers, but more are always welcome (www.newleafmarket.org).
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.