A friend started a bulk dry goods buying co-op, and I joined in order to get dry goods--rice, wheat berries, rolled oats, etc.--in bulk at great prices. She worked with a company in Michigan which delivered to her house on a monthly basis (or whenever she ordered). Once she disbanded the co-op, she encouraged me to start the same one, with my own rules--which is a great thing you can do when you run a co-op!
Here's how I run ours. First of all, I really could order by myself, if I met the $400 minimum order required by this company. That minimum must be met, or there is a delivery fee. I could order and pay the fee, too, but since there were a handful of us still wanting to order, I was happy to create the co-op.
We order from Country Life Natural Foods, based in Michigan. You can click on that link, then click on Online Store to see the types of products they offer. This company is a dairy-free one, so no refrigerated or dairy products. They are a Christian company, however, and I love being able to support their business. They offer organic and non-organic products, so that may be a consideration for you. Plus, they deliver right to my door!
Another great plus for them is that I don't have to order every month, or even on a set schedule. So, we order every two months, which seems to work for our little group. If we don't meet the minimum order, I simply send out an email and let the group know, and we'll delay the order another month.
Here's a screen snippet of our order form, which I created using Google Drive:
It's an Excel-type document, so I can total orders, and everything is neat and tidy. The above snippet is from a completed order, so it doesn't look like that at first. The first step for me is to create a new sheet for the current order--you can see the order dates along the bottom--our upcoming order date will be in May.
I usually put my name and my cell phone number in the above form, because my cell phone is the easiest way for co-op members to get hold of me if they have issues filling out the order form, or with pricing, the Country Life website, etc. Lately, I've included our route # (unique to CLNF) on this form so I don't forget the order deadline for our particular delivery route! (Order deadlines are different for each route that CLNF has.) I also include my customer number there now, so that if I need to call them (and they're super friendly and helpful), I have my customer number handy.
Once the current blank order form is ready, I click on Share, which in the Google Drive document is in the upper right corner. It gives me a link to this Google doc so I can share it with others. By the way, you can create private documents, but I've set this one so that others can view and edit it with a link. That way, co-op members have access to it and can add items whenever they want or need to throughout the month up until the order deadline. I do a control+C to copy the link, and I include that link in an email to our group (I've created a group email that goes out to everyone with one click). Once I've sent the link out, everyone can access the doc and type in their orders!
On CLNF's website, I click their Online Store to shop for what I need. I've set the document up for item number, description, quantity, price, and extended price. I set the deadline for ordering on the Monday before the actual CLNF ordering deadline (usually a Wednesday), to give me a little leeway to actually place the order, and to give a little grace to anyone who may want to add something at the last minute.
Usually on Wednesday morning, I go into the doc and print it. I order whatever is on there. My policy for our members is that Monday is the deadline, and whatever is in there when I print it (on Tuesday or Wednesday) is what I'll order. I don't want anyone to get mad at me because they put something in there after I printed it and ordered the items! So I have a printed copy for my records. This has never been an issue, since we have only six or seven members, but if the group grows, I want to already have the policy in place.
After I've printed the order form out, I simply input the item numbers at the CLNF website, on their order form. It pulls up the description, so if someone's item number doesn't match their description, I can go in and fix the item number to match. It's just a little extra something I do. If it tells me an item is back ordered, for example, I put a "BO" in the column to the right of the price (in my Google doc order form). I also adjust prices up or down accordingly, with a note in that same "Notes" column so members can see when they access the document to see the total price they owe.
Here in Illinois, we're required to collect food sales tax for items ordered out of state, so I do that once I get the actual order in. I also require that members pay upon pickup--no payment, no pickup. I then go ahead and place the order, and put the total on my credit card. Other co-op clubs require payment up front, or with PayPal, or some other method. I know everyone in our club, so this isn't an issue. (I don't want to say yet!) Another plus of running the co-op is being able to set the payment and finance side of things up the way I want them to be run.
I place the order on a Wednesday, and I usually get a friendly phone call that Friday with a delivery date and approximate time.
Now comes the fun part! Kevin, our driver, usually shows up within a half hour of the given delivery time. The sound of his truck is distinct, so someone usually hollers out that he's here with the order. There's his truck outside our house!
He spends a few minutes getting paperwork together, then heads to the back of the truck to get the first load--whatever boxes will fit on his dolly.
Kevin brings everything right up to our front door! Or, to our garage but since it snowed and the garage floor was wet, we wanted the order inside (plus it was a smaller order). He was chatting with me as he walked up, wondering why I was snapping pictures, but once I explained I was going to blog about our co-op, he was enthusiastic about me getting all the right pictures!
My guys are helpful to bring in everything so Kevin doesn't have to lug it all in where I want it and set each thing down.
He actually posed for the below, while Joseph is wondering Why doesn't Mr. Kevin just hand me the box??
And there you have it! But we're not done. I go through the order form (usually Joseph does all this stuff for me; he's so helpful) and separate out each person's order, marking higher/lower prices, back-ordered items, etc. right in the Google doc order form. Then I calculate tax and type in each person's final total amount due.
Next, I print out the complete order form with tax and totals due, and cut out each person's order. That cut-out "receipt" gets taped on each person's order so that we can double-check payment when she comes to pick up her order. Oh--and I determine the pick-up day, too! In the screen snippet above, you noticed there was one pick-up day; I've changed that now so that as soon as everything is sorted and the order form is done, I email out the completed form with totals due, and let everyone know that she can pick up her order from that time through Friday--so it's usually Wednesday through Friday. I ask the members to call me to make sure I'll be home when they want to come. This gives everyone flexibility--I can plan my days however I want, and everyone can come when it suits (within my three-day timeframe).
I also stipulate that if someone can't pick up their order, to make arrangements with me before she places her order. Most of the ladies in our club go to my church, so if the order isn't too large, I can bring it to church for someone if she really needs me to. But, I always ask that she contact me to make sure it's feasible for me to do that before she places her order and assumes I will.
My co-op order waiting to be sorted out in our Bomb Shelter.
Co-op orders awaiting pick-up.
Benefits of our particular co-op.
- I can place orders on a monthly, bi-monthly, or whenever-I-want basis.
- Bulk prices are usually better (but not always!).
- Country Life delivers to my door.
- Members pick up right at my house.
- Our Google doc order form is convenient--any time I'm running low on an item, I type it into the current order.
- The entire process, outside of pick-up day, is online. I usually get paid by check, so I do have to visit the bank--no big deal for me as it's two blocks from home.
- I get to be a blessing to others!
I know this post is longer and more involved than most of my posts and I've also probably left out a detail or two. If you have questions, please type them below in the comment box, and I'll answer them! I hope you have the blessing of being able to set up a bulk goods co-op in your area!!
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