The Boise Co-op technically cannot be bought out by a larger corporation by its very nature as a member-owned co-op, but that doesn't mean Boise's favorite alternative grocery/deli/hang-out does not undergo the quintessential struggles that characterize independent business. Though "growth has been consistent and constant," according to Ken Kavanagh, store manager, "it's been a very long time-30 years to get to this point."
An itch to move has relocated the Co-op from a brief stint on Broadway to Hyde Park then Hill Road, finally settling into its present stomping grounds at Fort and 9th. "This last year has been very good in terms of the amount of growth," Kavanagh says. "We're reaching a point where it won't be possible to grow significantly because we're reaching the limitation of our space, our parking-so we have had a really good year."
Kavanagh doubts the Co-op could sell out due to its structure, but the comparison he can draw concerning competition is to the popular national chain, Whole Foods. "I'm not sure how people would react to us being replaced by a Whole Foods," he says. "There are some definite advantages to being part of a national chain, but there's also a few disadvantages too. I don't think you have the ability to adapt to the community as much as the [Co-op] does." Kavanagh would know, as an original co-founder along with other like-minded folk, he has seen the store through every awkward growing pain into its present flourishing state. "I started working here when I was 24. I really take a lot of satisfaction in my work," he says. "I think I would have a hard time working in a corporate environment. Maybe I'd have to do some real work," he adds, laughing.
Statistics have proven a Whole Foods opening within a mile of a co-op doesn't affect its business. "We don't really have direct competition. Whole Foods is attracting a different customer and I still don't understand what that is," says Kavanagh. "A co-op shopper likes to come to the store, feel like they're part of it, see people they know-longevity of employees is important to them-it's not like going to a local Rite-Aid where everyone's different every time you come in."
Though a second location was pondered years ago, a consultant advised Kavanagh that not enough business was being done to even consider the possibility. "We needed to do about 20 million a year in order for that to make any sense, which we're getting close to." A pretty neat feat considering the first month the Co-op opened, a mere $4,000 in sales was brought in, equating to approximately $50,000 that year (a paltry quarter of a percent of today's annual sales). Consultants also advised the Co-op to seek advertising money from companies of products they carry. "We were not spending anywhere near what the average is in the industry on advertising," Kavanagh says. "And at that point Jodie (Peterson, advertising director) walked in, wearing a very short skirt," he adds, as Peterson is listening, "and she really had the background and the energy for this which nobody else really had, she really saw things the way a marketing person would see them."
"We did some other things too, like we repainted," he explains. To which Peterson rolls her eyes and says, "We're pretty sure that's the main reason why [it's been successful]."
"Somebody suggested that the reason we increased the volume is we're having more store meetings (laughter abounds). So it's been affective, apparently," Kavanagh says. He mentions the more vocal locals will be critical, but "in my experience, most people think, 'Wow, the co-op, I've been a member there for 15 years and that's really cool that they're being that successful and it's something I belonged to when it was just a little dinky place," says Kavanagh. "And I think most people like it."