Would you risk $10 and 10 minutes to stick a finger in the eye of the retail giants?

CCPNews - For 30 years a small group of cooperatively minded families has done just that. It has operated a buying club - they call it the Burnaby Co-op - from a back yard in Burnaby. The process is simple, with the Co-op acting as a buyer for its members rather than a seller to them.

At BurnabyCo-op.ca you can see what the Co-op has available, set up an on line account, and help to build a dream. You can also read a short article headed "10 Minutes To Shop" on the Co-op's blog then spend 10 minutes walking your mouse down the aisles of the Co-op's website, have the things you need delivered to your home without adding to your carbon footprint, buy a $10 share to participate in all of the Co-op's activities and share the profits that result from "sticking a finger in the eye of the retail giants."

Not long ago it was a very different story. Every few weeks the volunteer manager would phone the Co-op's members, ask if they needed anything, compile a list and submit it to wholesalers. The Co-op focused on non perishables and there was no rent or staff to pay so prices, were very low. When orders arrived volunteers would gather to assemble the items into boxes or bags for each member according to hand written lists prepared by the manager or submitted by members. Members who were not available to assist with order assembly would drop by over the next few days to pick up their box of items, pay, and enjoy a bit of a visit.

In 2007 the Co-op decided it was time to fan the glowing embers of a long held dream. A dream that progressive people on BC’s Lower Mainland would have a place to call their own. A place where they could buy the things they want and need without supporting the retail giants that dominate the market. A place where co-operatively minded people could gather to chat, enjoy each other’s company and help one another while taking care of the necessities of life.

A goal mapping process was undertaken. It produced a plan to develop a small store with a big on line capacity. "Our goal: A small store with or next to a bakery and farmers' market; offering online ordering. Our Focus: Community and Education. Our Product Focus: Planet Friendly and Healthy." is what the plan says.

A consultant’s report was commissioned and the tasks of modernizing the Co-op was just beginning when the long time volunteer manager, Bob Smith, unexpectedly died at the age of 60. If members did not realize the time and effort that Bob had been contributing before this they certainly did now. The Co-op struggled to continue. It had to choose. It could fold or it could modernize and grow.

Modernization is well underway and growth has begun. The Co-op has set new targets and expects to move its operations to a more accessible location at the end of 2012. A website that focuses on the Co-op's goals and can take orders for thousands of different products; everything from appliance, natural and organic groceries, to vitamins, hardware and home and garden needs has been developed. The financial and other records have been computerized, new processes for ordering, receiving shipments and carbon neutral home delivery have been implemented. Plans for growing the membership are taking shape and orders are up.

The Co-op still operates with no paid staff and extremely low overhead. It provides members with the opportunity to shop from home and enjoy low prices. As always the Co-op shares it profits (called Patronage Refunds) with its members - using a formula based on the amount of each member's purchases (patronage) for that year.

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