Vermont Business Magazine In November 2015, Underhill residents formed the Mansfield Cooperative to investigate purchasing the Underhill Country Store from current owners Peter and Nancy Davis, who are planning to retire. The cooperative model has been a popular one with Underhill’s 3,000 residents and over $50,000 was pledged by potential Co-op Members between early November and mid-December. In January, the Onion River Co-op (which currently operates City Market in Burlington) and the Mansfield Cooperative formed a partnership to transform the Underhill Country Store into a Member-owned food cooperative.
Underhill Country Store, courtesy Onion River Co-op.
For a four week period starting January 25, several managers from the Onion River Co-op set about learning the day-to-day operations of the Underhill Country Store from current owners Peter and Nancy Davis. During these four weeks, these managers also learned from community members what they’d like to see in the next iteration of their community store.
Onion River Co-op also contracted for a market study to evaluate the future potential of the store. The results of the market study indicate that, based on population and demographics, Underhill is a great market for a small format Co-op. Given the right product mix, appropriate margins, and some building renovations, this new Co-op could anticipate steady sales growth. The feedback from the community, both in person and over email, has provided additional anecdotal evidence of these findings and the community at large seems very interested in supporting a Co-op.
The next phase of support for the Mansfield Cooperative will include a larger partnership with Onion River Co-op, the Food Co-op Initiative (FCI), and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA). Both FCI and NFCA are regional and national experts in working with start-up Co-ops and will provide a variety of resources to the Mansfield Cooperative to help ensure success. Onion River Co-op will continue to take a lead role in operational support for the Mansfield Cooperative. This continued support will include assisting the Mansfield Cooperative with hiring a store manager; training the store manager and creating some standard operating procedures; and offering support and services in the areas ofhuman resources, IT, finance and marketing.
At this time, the Mansfield Cooperative plans to lease the Underhill Country Store from the Davises and create a locally owned food co-op with overwhelming community support. The Onion River Co-op will continue to provide support in many areas of this transition, at least over the next three months, and will work closely with the Mansfield Cooperative Board and Members to help ensure a successful transition.
Kyle Clark, Board President of the Mansfield Cooperative, expressed appreciation for Onion River Co-op’s support over the past four weeks. “The Underhill community has been excited to share their feedback with Onion River Co-op managers working in the store. We look forward to their continued support in a variety of areas as we transition ownership and day to day running of the store to the Mansfield Cooperative. The Board will soon be working on the details of the Membership campaign so that we can convert our current pledges into Member shares with the new cooperative.”
John Tashiro, Onion River Co-op’s General Manager, shared his excitement at welcoming a new cooperative to the area. “In the tradition of the owners before them, Peter and Nancy have created a wonderful and welcoming community market that is important to the Underhill community. We’ve heard from so many engaged residents who are interested in supporting the store as a community-owned cooperative. We’ll continue to work closely with the Mansfield Cooperative to help make this vision a successful reality.”
Onion River Co-op
The Onion River Co-op is a community-owned cooperative, with over 11,300 Members, selling wholesome food and other products while building a vibrant, empowered community and a healthier world, all in a sustainable manner. Located in downtown Burlington, Vermont, Onion River Co-op provides a large selection of local, organic, and conventional foods and thousands of Vermont-made products. Visit Onion River Co-op online atwww.onionriver.coop or call 802-861-9700.
The Mansfield Cooperative is a start-up Co-op that is working to purchase the Underhill Country Store and operate it as a community-owned business. They have a 6 member Board of Directors who are currently seeking Membership commitments and conducting due diligence on details needed to start this new business venture. Find more information about Mansfield Cooperative Membership online at www.designbook.com/funding/underhillcountrystore