Saturday, November 27, 2010

Brainstorming ideas for the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

Over the last few weeks, I have been encouraging a brainstorming process among the Board and the membership in three major issues: Improving Customer Satisfaction, Spending Money, Making Money. I chose to divide the issue these ways, because it seemed to me that these were the areas that needed attention.

For a long time, we have substituted volunteer labor for money. That has been, and will remain, an important aspect of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative experience, but our history also suggests that there is a hidden cost to that in the form of over-burdening key people who all to often have ended up “burning out”. There is an increasing feeling among the leaders of the coop that it is not acceptable for the coop to go on “sacrificing” people in this way, so the issue of “spending money” is definitely on the table.

To spend money, however, we must make money. So we also need to think about ways to increase the cooperative’s revenues.

And customer satisfaction has a very direct relationship to whether or not people decide to shop the coop for all or part of their households’ groceries.

This document summarizes the results of the brain storming suggestions, from both the Board and the membership. The outline below was not pre-determined, but was formed after looking at all of the suggestions and sorting them. Some of them could easily be in more than one location, but this is a good place to start.

In this summary, I have combined similar suggestions and listed their proposers and tried to organize them by topic. I did some rewording to take them from the form of casual conversation to ideas for discussion. If I distorted anyone's idea, or if your idea got lost in the conversation, let me know.

By posting this discussion – to the members of the Board, to the coop’s general discussion group, and to my website, I hope to generate even more discussion and conversation and ideas about re-organizing the way we do things. I will continue to act as “secretary” for the discussions and add new ideas as they are developed to this outlined, which will be posted from time to time to the various discussion listservs and at  .

I would caution everyone that this has been a brainstorming process, it is not a document indicating management decisions that have already been made. While discussion about the merits or demerits of each of these proposals is perfectly fine, I would like to remind all that this discussion should be civil and devoid of angry outbursts of rage if you see something you don’t like. Everyone participating in this process is deeply committed to the coop and its success and so the good intentions of everyone can and should be appreciated.

NB:  Due to the limitations of the software, much of the formatting has disappeared from this document, in particular, the indents.  A pdf of the original, with all the formating, can be downloaded from the files section of the Coop's general discussion group, .

1.0 Improving Customer Satisfaction
1.1 Website Changes (7 topics)
1.2 Member Issues (3 topics)
1.3 Producer/product Issues (9 topics)
1.4 Marketing/promotion (2 topics)
1.5 Customer Education (1 topics)
1.6 Big Picture Items (1 topics)
1.7 Delivery Day Sorting (4 topics)
1.8 Pickup Sites (5 topics)

2.0 Making Money

2.1 Sales (8 topics)
2.2 Marketing/promotion (5 topics)
2.3 Member Issues (3 topics)
2.4 Miscellaneous Revenue Sources (6 topics)
2.5 Miscellaneous Issues (1 topic)

3.0 Spending Money

3.1 Promotions/marketing (1 topic)
3.2 Employees (11 topics).



1.1.1 A button to click on the home page: First Time to the Website. This would explain the basics in two or three paragraphs: cost to join, order cycle and pick-up, a few of our vip standards in brief. (Ann Boulton)

1.1.2 Improve the website more so it functions more like a normal e-commerce website. (Chelsey Simpson)

(a) Make products easier to sort. (Chelsey Simpson, Shauna Struby)

(b) Offer more product sorting options for the list like other websites have (sort by most popular, recently added, most and least expensive, organic, all natural...) Chelsey Simpson, Karen Cline, Shelley Smith, Shauna Struby,

(c) Make the lists more visually appealing/ not as long to scroll through. (Chelsey Simpson)

(d) Auto-generate an email the day the order closes so that everyone with items in their cart receives a reminder to check it for accuracy and add more items if they want. (Chelsey Simpson)

1.1.3 Automate product display, so that if a product has zero inventory, it does not display. If members take items out of their shopping carts so the inventory is restored, the item would automatically re-appear without producer or coop admin action. Bob Waldrop, Kathy Tibbits. Shelley Smith

(a) Enable a user option to “hide items without inventory”. Karen Cline.

1.1.4 Product search. Laura (member).

1.1.5 If the coop runs on Linux, switch to htdig. Julia Christensen

1.1.6 Eliminate duplicate product categories/departments/shelves. Karen Cline, Shelley Smith

1.1.7 Use an icon to identify at a glance that a product is either organic, naturally grown/raised without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, or conventionally grown.


1.2.1 Customer Complaints

(a) Improve our response time to customer complaints/questions. (Ann Boulton)

(b) Organize communications so that six people don't think they need to respond. (Ann Boulton)

(c) Eliminate/resolve non-functioning customer service issues like the delays in returning messages left on the answering machine at the op center. Four possible solutions:

(i) Change the message to say call Ann Boulton, here's the number.

(ii) Ask people to leave an email address.

(iii) Hire an answering service.

(iv) Use a flow chart that shows where customer complaint emails go. Ann Boulton

1.2.2 Besides subscribing all members to , also subscribe them to to encourage feedback and discussion. Dev Valencourt.

1.2.3 Host a bulletin board that allows anonymous posting at the website. Dev Valencourt


1.3.1 Eliminate random weight items. (Chelsey Simpson)

1.3.2 Develop a producer help desk/volunteer that would work with producers who do not have computer access to list their products, print their product lists and labels, etc. Charge something for this service. Kathy Tibbits, Kathy Moore, Lauren Brandeberry, Bob Waldrop Waldrop, Shauna Struby, Dev Valencourt, Karen Cline,

1.3.3 Eliminate missing item fee if due to pests, freeze, etc. Kathy Moore

1.3.4 Enforce the requirement that producers declare their use of conventional pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers. Shelley Smith

1.3.5 Standardize the way that produce is listed. Patty Loofbourrow

1.3.6 Include allergen requirements as part of producer orientation. Patty Loofbourrow

1.3.7 Develop a method/structure for members to request products and for this info to make it to producers. Dev Valencourt. Linda Zoldoske

1.3.8 Combine the store idea with a certified kitchen available for rent; put April Harrington in charge of it. Kathy Tibbits, John Herndon, Dev Valencourt,

1.3.9 Implement an E-bay-type feedback system for producers. Bob Waldrop


1.4.1 Promote the coop in Fayetteville, Arkansas, at the U of Ark. (Ann Boulton)

1.4.2 Address the issue that the coop is only for upscale urban people. Patty Loofborow


1.5.1 Offer more cooking classes. (Chelsey Simpson)

(a) Develop recipes using only coop ingredients (except maybe salt and pepper) maybe make it a competition, possibly cause it to pop up when someone orders one ingredient. (Ann Boulton)


1.6.1 Regionalize the coop for an additional monthly delivery.

(a) 3 regions – OKC, Tulsa, Muskogee Tahlequah.

(b) One monthly order would be like our present statewide delivery.

(c) A second monthly order would be regionalized. Members in the Tulsa area would order from Tulsa producers; members in the Tahlequah-Muskogee area would order from Tahlequah producers; members in the OKC area would order from OKC area producers.

(d) Producers could have the option of participating in more than one regional order, as long as they could get their products to that region’s delivery day.

(e) Submitted by Bob Waldrop.


1.7.1 Sort frozen and refrigerated items to individual customers like we do dry goods. (Bob Waldrop)

1.7.2 Improve the presentation of frozen and refrigerated item by packing them in boxes for individual customers. (Bob Waldrop)

1.7.3 Number the coolers in sequence for pickup sites. (Ann Boulton, reporting suggestion of member)

1.7.4 “Head of Security” for the op site. Kathy Tibbits


1.8.1 Train our pick-up site volunteers to act like real customer service people. (Chelsey Simpson)

1.8.2 Write cooler numbers on invoices so that customers don't have to consult the sheets. (Chelsey Simpson)

1.8.3 Improve training, support for, and compensation for route/pickup site managers. Candace Lockett

(a) Have a route/pickup site managers appreciation day, or an nual bonus or gift for them.

(b) Suggest to producers that they send free samples to route managers, who have direct interaction with customers and can act as salespeople.

(c) Ensure that every route/pick-up site manager has a number to call on delivery day, well into the evening, and the next day, that will be answered by a live person capable to answering questions, resolving problems, or finding the person who can handle a particular situation.

(d) Candace’s ideas for support for route/pick-up site managers were “seconded” by Karen Cline, Pam Ferry, Shauna Struby, Bob Waldrop, all of whom have been route or pick-up site managers.

1.8.4 Dedicated coop transportation for routes, either by purchase or lease, together with training for the drivers. Julie Gahn

1.8.5 Offer free samples of food at pickup sites. (Ann Boulton)



2.1.1 Go to twice a month orders. (Ann Boulton)

2.1.2 Start a Coop farmers market. Order online, pickup at a coop farmers market. Greg Parker.

2.1.3 Encourage out of town customers to network in order to pick up orders for them at a coop farmers market. . Walter Kelley

2.1.4 Bob Waldrop’s Variation on the Coop farmers market: Develop a Coop Mobile Market (CMM) that would wander about on a schedule in areas with a strong cooperative membership base.

(a) People could order online for delivery at the Coop Mobile Market

(b) CMM would also have stock from producers offered on consignment. This preserves one of the advantages of the coop for the producers in that they wouldn't have to be personally present for the event.

(c) CMM could be a different place every day for 3 weeks of the month (perhaps repeating in some locations), operating on Saturday in areas where there aren't a farmer's market.

(d) Start with one CMM in the OKC area to test the concept, and then if viable add one for the Tulsa area.

(e) Producers could drop off consignment product on delivery day when they are bringing their other stuff, they wouldn't get paid until we sold the items, but when sold they would get paid promptly (weekly check).

(f) Finesse any software issues in the short term by installing our software on multiple domains, e.g.,, and , so that people could order online for 3 weekly deliveries at a coop mobile market stop, while keeping for the regular monthly order.

(g) The mobile market would be a trailer pulled by a pickup, carrying food and tables and etc and setting up at a location like we do at present for a pick-up site.

(h) Kathy Tibbit’s variation of Bob’s variation on the coop farmers market suggestion: Put the coop mobile market on a bus.

2.1.5 Open a store. Dawn Mahiya, Shauna Struby. Kathy Tibbits.

(a) Locate the store next door to the Red Cup location in the 73106 zip code, OKC. (Dawn Mahiya)

2.1.6 Coop-operated CSA: Instead of ordering exact items, customers would choose from one of a couple CSA boxes that would contain items from different producers. Sell the boxes outside of the regular monthly delivery as a testing ground for a second monthly delivery. Farmers' markets could be distribution points for the CSA-type system (Chelsey Simpson)

2.1.7 Make coop meal packs – everything (or most things) necessary to make a particular meal for a certain number of people. (Kathy Tibbits)

2.1.8 Additional pick-up possibilities not on the third Thursday, such as picking up on the Saturday after delivery day to accommodate members that can’t meet our current pickup. Jennifer David.


2.2.1 Have a farm tour and charge money like they do for house and garden tours. Do it annually and select a different region of the state each year (close to metro areas if possible). Ann Boulton

2.2.2 Promote the coop in North Texas. Ann Boulton

(a) And also other border areas.

2.2.3 Promote the coop to more medical people; Ann Boulton

2.2.4 Have a specialized “Sale” web-flyer each month. Justine Foster.

2.2.5 Highlight sales in existing producer notes. (?)


2.3.1 Make new members accounts active immediately so that they can order right away. Ann Boulton

2.3.2 Charge an annual fee of $20 that can be waived by donating an hour of your time or attending a board meeting. (Chelsey Simpson)

2.3.3 Increase the coop producer and customer charges.(Bob Waldrop)


2.4.1 Invest some of the coop's working capital in items that are not and never will be produced by Oklahoma producers, which the coop would buy at wholesale and sell at retail to our customers, such as Texas citrus, Arkansas and Texas rice, paper goods (something like 7th generation toilet paper etc). (Bob Waldrop)

2.4.2 Implement the program to sell classified ads at the website to members only, that has already been approved by the Board. (Bob Waldrop)

2.4.3 Sell display ads on the website. (Bob Waldrop)

2.4.4 Sell booths at the annual meeting. (Bob Waldrop)

2.4.5 Operate a catering truck offering Oklahoma foods at fairs/events. Bob Waldrop

2.4.6 Have more Oklahoma food dinners but charge enough so we actually make a profit. ?


2.5.1 Study other retail coops for ideas for us. Shauna Struby



3.1.1 Spend some money on advertising. Walter Kelley


3.2.1 Hire a finance manager. Walter Kelley, Kara McKee, Bob Waldrop, Greg Parker, April Harrington

3.2.2 Hire a PR/outreach manager. Ann Boulton, Chelsey Simpson, Bob Waldrop

3.2.3 Make changes to the GOM job duties so that the position is an actual GM. Chelsey Simpson

3.2.4 Institute a pay raise/work credit increase across the board for "middle managers" or other people who do not have a full time or even part-time work load but who we depend on greatly and who hold responsibility. Chelsey Simpson

3.2.5 Hire a routes manager. Kara McKee

3.2.6 Hire a software assistant to do routine website tasks and handle the routine software/customer web-related questions. Kara McKee

3.2.7 Raise for GOM. Bob Waldrop

3.2.8 Hire a producer manager. (Bob Waldrop)

3.2.9 Spend more money on hiring employees to do work presently done by over-worked volunteers, target critical functions, especially communication functions. Justine Foster.

3.2.10 We should fill other management holes with employees, such as producer communications and maybe even route coordination. Chelsey Simpson

3.2.11 General increase in the work credit program for volunteers. Bob Waldrop


  1. Names should be removed from this public posting, just for safety purposes.

  2. Well, these ideas were all posted by the persons indicated in the public discussion groups of the cooperative, whose archives are open for anyone to read, so they are already a matter of the "public record" so to speak. I am also not sure of what "safety purposes" would apply here.

  3. I'm new to the coop, so I apologize in advance if I don't fully grasp all that's being discussed here... Regarding additional delivery sites and marketing issues, we might consider partnering with the school districts. Hundreds of employees know where the administration building is. Most admin buildings have a meeting hall for our delivery. Plan our deliveries around district paydays. Marketing through the district's inter-school mailing system would be an effective way to reach thousands. Each school building could promote to its PTA/Parent Group and contact even more.