By Veronica Sandate Craker
Almost three years after first opening its brick and mortar store, the Northwest Regional Food Hub members are busy undertaking the task of turning their LLC into a cooperative.
The board has been in the process of the switch since January 2013, said Dani Smart, volunteer.
“That’s always been kind of the goal that we’re doing here, to transfer to a member-operated system,” said David Acton, board vice president. “We’d like to see it within the end of 2014, preferably within six months to a year.”
Acton, Smart and Stephanie Greene, board secretary and treasurer, said the only thing that would change would be the way the finances are handled.
The Hub is currently run as a co-op with two types of member owners: consumer-members and vendor members.
All members are able to vote in elections, serve on the board and committees, volunteer and have access to members-only programs. Consumer members will receive discounts and access to pre-ordering of products from whole food distributors like Azure Standard. Vendor members will be able to sell their products directly to consumers and have direct access to consumer members to help market and sell their products.
The Northwest Regional Food Hub opened first as an online store in 2007 before making its home at 603 Goethals Dr. in Richland. Since then they have acquired 180 members, who pay an annual fee of $35 each.
“Perks that come from said membership are pride and feeling of ownership, having decision making abilities on how we’re transforming ourselves, where we are going as we continue to grow, products that are brought in … ability to be a board person and please step up to be one of them,” Acton said.
Members are also eligible for discounted prices provided by one of the 56 vendors. That number has more than doubled since the Hub opened its store location three years ago.
But shoppers don’t have to be a member to purchase goods at the store.
Smart said the hub is different from most co-ops since it focuses on the vendor as opposed to the consumer.
The intent of most co-ops is to allow members to pool resources to gain discounts. But the Hub’s focus is on its vendors.
“And to us our biggest dividend is a farmer staying in business one more year so we can have a turkey,” Smart said.
Smart said Hub members would like to see the business open more often and have more vendors.
“We need more businesses that are interested in selling and we need more volunteers who are able to help out,” Smart said.
The Hub works on a commission basis with its vendors to provide cheaper prices to its shoppers, Acton said. “I find our product to be cheaper than I get at most other stores and at a higher quality.”
Smart said the business would also like to have a general manager and more locations around the Tri-Cities.
“We follow this new focus of local and supporting our local communities. We caught it at just the right moment,” Smart said. “A lot of older co-ops are just trying to reintegrate local support inside as structure that’s built around a different model.”
Smart said by focusing on locally-made and locally-grown products, they’ve been able to capitalize on the locavore movement.
“I think we’ve benefited on a nationwide focus on locally sustainable businesses,” she said. “I don’t know if we would have been as successful eight years ago or 10 years ago.”
For more information on the Hub visit nwfoodhub.com.