Co-Op Sales, Marketing, Promotion

We've got this kitchen, ingredients, supplies, licenses, and a staff with more than enough abilty to do what needs to be done.  We can put that kitchen to work with bread, pies, dinners, baked goods, deli items, prety much anything we can imagine.  We also have a store to sell our products.  Let's consider the notion that the world outside the store is a whole lot bigger than inside, and if we can take advantage of the opportunity out there, we can bring that opportunity back to the co-op.

Twenty years ago I made chocolate lollipops.  Sold the dickens out of them.  I was going from store to store with a trunk load of lollipops.  Stop at a store, fill the display, I put $10-30 bucks in my pocket, head to the next store.  A couple dozen stops in a day was possible if the car was running well, and sales were pretty good.  I'd spend a week driving around Maine, another week driving around Cape Cod, then spend a week making lollipops.  Each production run would have me plan how many of what flavor for a given mold.  I'd buy more molds so I could make more of a particular style at a time.  Adding another melter let me make bigger batches at a time.  It took a few months to gather the equipment I needed to make LOTS of lollipops all at once, but when I reached that point, I could change the targets of my sales calls.

I had built a route of a couple hundred stores over six months, moving maybe a couple dozen lollipops at each stop.  It got me from where I was to where I wanted to be.  I wanted to be able to approach a convenience store supplier with my lollipops.  There were a couple of them in Maine at the time.  I called, set an appointment, rehearsed by sales pitch, drank way too much coffee and gave it my best shot.  I made the sale.   They took 10,000 lollipops, put them in 200 stores in a week.

This co-op is not simply a farm or a little pizza shop, it's a business which is fully capable of earning a respectable income for everyone involved according to their level of desire.  Taking the business to the next level, offering our products to a larger market, can make a difference in people's lives.

We have to be able to produce a product consistently and of outstanding quality.  We need the production capacity to handle the volume of sales we that could be realized.  We need people who can get out there and make sales.  And we need to reward those sales people accordingly. That little ktchen of ours has great potential to produce several products in great quantity and at a production level that maintains the hourly payout.  There are places that would use our product.  Restaurants come to mind right off, and there are lots of them out there.  We'll need to do our homework first.  The cost of the bread, productivity, price, capacity, supply, shipping and delivery, payment.  

Until the product is sold, nothing happens.  We dont turn on ovens, we dont pack boxes, we don't even have to come in.  
When the product is sold, everything happens.  We make money.  With some volume behind our production, we make it efficiently.

I have no problem with commissioned sales being part of our strategy.  There's more out there than baking bread, digging potatoes and building picnic tables.  Each new development in the co-op presents more opportunity.  I can't offer figures on the income potential that would go along with this plan, but it should be residual: make the sale, keep getting the commission as long as you are involved in the sharecropper program.  

There are several considerations here.  The salesperson would need to show competence for the position with job knowledge, product knowledge, and a good performance history with the co-op.  In the event of price fluctuations, the company can't take a loss so a percentage commission works better than a flat rate commission.  If there are several salespeople, they will need to coordinate their efforts so as not to approach  the same stores and to serve the area effectively.  This has territories written all over it.  

With commission sales we take a step away from the equal reward paradigm that has stymied the worker owned co-operative movement.  We've got young people involved who will hopefully move on from the co-op, out into the real world.  We'll want to prepare them as best we can.  This means competition and performance rewards.   If we stick with equal pay we remove the incentive to try harder: No matter what you do you make the same as everyone else.   If we are to grow this company into something that improves lives, we'll need people who are willing to go the extra mile and have an incentive to do just that.  By offering a commission we are not taking from the rest of the workers.  Quite the contrary, without that sale, the rest of the workers would not have that work.  Commissioned sales creates opportunity.

With commission sales we crack open Pandora's Box.  We'll have people who want a commission for every single thing they do.  Jack recruits a new member, Jack want's a commission.  Jack sells a sack of bagels to a customer, Jack wants a commission.  Sorry Jack, we're not going to trip over dollars to pick up nickels.  A one time casual sale of an individual item is not going to cut it.    Now, if Jack is interested in selling many sacks of bagels to a store that will buy more next week, then we need to talk. 

Moving into commission sales is an evolution for this little co-op.  The combination of farm-kitchen-store can do well as it is.  Stepping into commercial products is possible, but not for every product we have to offer.  Too much business is as bad as not enough.  If we set Jack loose, he could sell a million bagels.  If we can only make half a million bagels we're in a pickle.  At what point do we stop being a cooperative farm looking out for each other and the community and become just another corporation mass marketing a product?  Do we hire statutory employees at low wages just to make bagels or do we recruit more sharecroppers?  Do we invest in equipment and an independent bagel making facility?   I think we can do this while maintaining the co-op and sharecropper structures.   Jack may need to be reigned in until the company catches up.  In the meantime, his commission would be well deserved.


Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline