THE SKINNY ON
Thanks for your interest in teaming up with Crown O'Maine to help spread the goodness of Maine-produced foods.
COMOC has been distributing Maine organic products throughout New England since 1995, and is the first distributor to deliver local foods to buying clubs. In order to provide the best possible service to your buying club, please read Our Vision which will explain what we believe we can do for you.
We deliver regularly to upwards of 40 clubs around the state. Check the list below to see if your area is included and, if there is contact information, please reach out to the coordinator directly and find out all the details and if it is a good fit. If you do not see contact info listed, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will either connect you or talk with you about starting a new club.
Phone: (207) 853-7138
Phone: (207) 513-3848
If you'd like to join a club, please click on the links above or email us and ask if there are no links. If you don’t see your area listed and you are interested in possibly starting one, please e-mail email@example.com. Chances are, other people in your area are also interested and we will facilitate the connection and steer you toward helpful resources.
We love nurturing clubs into existence and serving them—we are here to help make that happen!
For a product availability list (in pdf or spreadsheet form), delivery days and times and product information, please contact Tammy: firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-877-7444. She can also
We hope that you won't hesitate to contact us with questions, issues and general feedback.
Read on for more information and helpful links.
WORKING WITH CROWN
What Crown Asks of You
When working with us, there are really just a few things that we ask you to follow-through on:
There is no fee to join, no delivery fee and no required order frequency
So Exactly How Does It Work?
The Nuts & Bolts
Crown sends out the availability list (in pdf and excel format); receives your order; gathers all the food from all over the state; packs your order; emails a confirmation sales order; communicates out-of-stocks; delivers your order. We are also there to guide you to appropriate resources as far as buying club start-up and development...and act as a general cheerleader.
As a buying club coordinator, it is ultimately up to you to determine how many households are included in your group, who handles the receiving and breakdown of food and how to set up an ordering system that works for you on your end. It is your responsibility to compile the orders from your buying club customers and get them to Crown. Upon delivery, it is your club’s responsibility to break the food down into the individual orders. There are clubs that are very low-tech and those that are high-tech. It is really up to you and your group how you want to operate.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Important Ingredients to Consider as You Start a Food Buying Club
The simplest way to describe a Food Buying Club is as follows: multiple households purchasing food together. However, clubs take many forms-- there is no one-model-fits-all blueprint. All clubs are different and develop for various reasons and it is up to you and your team to decide what kind of club you want to be. There are no wrong answers!
Your club could stand alone or be part of a larger project/organization/business; stay small or get huge; be focused on the consumer; be focused on the farmer/producer; source only locally or offer non-Maine products as well. One person could do the bulk of the work (ordering, receiving and sorting) or everyone could be required to pitch in. Your club may lie anywhere along these spectrums.
Whatever you decide, just keep in mind how the club will be sustained since all clubs -- even tiny ones -- have expenses and take time and energy to operate. You will need adequate support to function well over time.
Support means anything that will feed/replenish the buying club operations in a consistent manner. It could be money (earned, donated, or via a parent organization); assets (equipment, space); labor (volunteer or compensated). Obviously a small, casual club will require less to function. A club that wishes to grow or serve a wider community will need more. The point is, the two sides of the equation need to balance.
SUPPORT ≧ TIME & MONEY SPENT
Think of a start-up club as a seed. To become a sprout, grow into a seedling and mature into a plant that provides sustenance, it needs to be tended to, right? It needs sun, water, skilled hands to pull the weeds away and a caring gardener to oversee the plot. Similarly, a club won't thrive without the appropriate amount of input-- be it money, labor or infrastructure and a person- or persons- to oversee operations.
Below are some suggestions to get you going.
Preparing the Beds
Gathering the team…
There are no hard and fast rules (you’ll recognize that this is a theme!) when it comes to “who” and “how many”. It really, truly is up to you how big or small you want your club to be. The bottom line is that it needs to make sense for those involved and for the resources you believe are in reach. If you plan on going BIG, make sure you have space to do that. If you plan on remaining small, make sure you will be able to meet the minimum required by most distributors ($250 in Crown’s case).
If you are having a hard time finding others to join you, consider hosting a potluck or putting up a flier at work, church, the playground or yoga studio. Once you have a core group that you are comfortable with, you can begin to develop the finer details. And don’t be surprised if this development seems to be ongoing-- it often is!
Deciding what to order…
Guess what? Yup, that’s up to you. Some groups order only from a distributor such as Crown O’Maine. Most medium or large groups combine a distribution company (or two) with purchasing from the farmers and producers who are right up the road. Again, this will all depend on where you are located and what the individuals in your group desire as well as what sort of infrastructure you have at your disposal (freezer and fridge space for instance).
Choosing a location…
Most clubs start off in someone’s garage/basement/spare room, etc. Some remain there and some outgrow those spaces and must re-locate to a community center, vacant storefront or church. It is no fun attempting to operate a buying club out of a space that simply cannot accommodate it and which does not have the appropriate equipment. Products end up stored improperly and customer pick-up can be stressful rather than joyful. It is always good to plan ahead, so pay attention to what might be available in your community if you think your club will be growing.
Seeds, Sun & Nutrients
Fees & mark-ups...
There are a number of ways to approach fees and mark-ups. And again, there aren't right and wrong ways, there will just be different outcomes. Some clubs have a membership fee as would a co-op, the idea being that the club is a service and has administrative and labor costs. Some clubs have a vendor fee (for farm-direct relationships) as would a farmers' market, again the idea being that it is a service to the farmer/producer. Some clubs mark-up their cost to capture revenue that way-- some do it very transparently so that customers know exactly how much of their money is going back to the farmer and how much is going toward buying club operations. Some clubs do fees and markups. Some clubs don't do either-- because they are very small or because they try to create revenue in other ways. At least one club has had success with an "opt-in" fee...it is actually an item that people can "purchase"-- and they do.
If there are fees and mark-ups of any sort, it is important to explain to customers why, even though it may be obvious to you and others. The reason? It takes money, time and energy to operate a club. Freezer, fridge and storage costs; maybe rental costs; phone calls, e-mails, outreach; basic equipment (scales) and supplies (bags, paper); labor; etc.
Offsetting fees and mark-ups:
Many clubs arise out of the desire to save money on food purchases or they have as a goal to keep local food affordable. There is a BIG conversation in there, but for now I'll just share some of the ways that clubs are trying to offset the reality that local food is often beyond the average person's budget while at the same time trying to cover the cost of operating the club. A fun riddle to solve!
And there are other ways to earn revenue or cut costs so that the mark-up and any service fees can be kept at a minimum:
Available Software Platforms
You may wish to compile your order by hand and send it to your vendors (including Crown) in spreadsheet form or call it in. If you’d prefer to use a software platform to gather customer orders and generate a spreadsheet, there are some options listed below:
1. Buying Club Software.
Jeremy and Matt created this software to improve the local distribution system between farmers/producers, distributors, and people working together to buy in bulk to save time and money. It was developed with Crown O'Maine in mind and thusly interfaces with the availability spreadsheet that Marada generates. Users can also list farm-direct products. Among other things, it handles split items quite nicely, generates receipts and can track member balances. There is a one-time set-up fee ($300) and a $1 per-member/month fee (if there are 50 or more members in the system, this is capped at $50/month).
To explore this software more or to get it up and running,
or contact: Jeremy Bloom, email@example.com, (207)319-7465,
From their wiki: It is designed to accommodate new or existing food-buying clubs who order from one or more distributors or directly from farms. The software supports any distributor since the order form is intentionally generic. The only thing it requires is that products you order have unique item codes.
Here is some feedback from a coordinator who uses this software:
I use FoodClub.org, and we take advantage of the option to have the items automatically update each week. I believe the man who runs the site has a program that inputs your spreadsheet into the software. He does this for free, financially running the site only on donations. We give donations regularly because we appreciate the time he takes and the ease of the software-it works beautifully!
Visit the website for more info or to get started: http://www.foodclub.org/
3. Lastly, there is Harvest to Market.
From the website: Our mission is to empower the local food movement through use of the World Wide Web and the Internet. We are striving to create a high-quality system which will:
Andrew Walters, the Harvest to Market contact, writes this:
Yes, despite the little issues we have had getting Cape Farms' Market inventory uploaded, I think we are very effectively uploading Crown of Maine inventory every week in the Machias Market.
Visit the website for more info or to get started:
The contact for H2M is Andrew Walters, firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading on starting a buying club: