KDC: Describe your role and responsibilities at KDC.
JC: I work with KDC’s internal Information Technology systems, from database management to cloud files to email maintenance. Last year I had the opportunity to redesign KDC’s website. I also work with a number of KDC’s clients to provide as-needed or project-based IT support. Some of the services I offer for our cooperative clients include point of sale system management, network administration, software implementation, hardware and software support and website design. I also love to generate detailed reporting with easy to use action items to help busy food co-op team members make informed, data driven decisions.
Because I work with multiple food cooperatives, I have the opportunity to help existing and emerging co-ops make decisions based on the results their peers might have had with similar approaches. Technology often seems like a luxury, but the effect good systems and early implementation have on the efficiency and accuracy of your business operations cannot be overstated. Two of my biggest goals are to help new co-ops make great technology decisions and to help existing co-ops keep up with rapidly changing technology demands.
KDC: What is your background and how did you come to be in your current position?
JC: Although I went to school for Anthropology, I found myself working in a Computer Recycling Center during most of my education. I learned a huge amount about hardware, software and legacy systems in that position. Once I graduated, I was hired by Weavers Way as a data entry technician. That connection eventually led to my role as Director of IT at CreekSide Co-op and a simultaneous position as POS Coordinator at Swarthmore Co-op. One of my coworkers at Swarthmore referred me to Peggy, KDC’s executive director, for a cloud system implementation. I have been working with KDC in a consulting role ever since.
KDC: What attracted you to the cooperative model?
JC: I was lucky enough to fall into it when I was hired by Weavers Way. I began to learn about how co-ops develop and the way they mean so much more to their communities than just the food that they sell. It is an incredible thing to see a community to come together to pursue a shared goal. My favorite part of walking into a new co-op is discovering the unique products the individual buyers are able to obtain – local dairy products, incredible baked goods, and an always amazing prepared foods department. I never leave a new store empty handed.
KDC: As you look to the future what do you see as the greatest opportunities and trends for cooperatives?
JC: I see co-ops continuing to innovate and find new ways to make themselves useful and unique in their communities. When I went to Up & Coming and the CooperationWorks! Training earlier this year I saw an incredible amount of support and enthusiasm for the model. A lot of the larger chains are beginning to incorporate “co-op-like” terminology into their marketing campaigns, but the die-hard cooperators won’t be fooled. There is also a lot of room for co-ops with more conventional product selections – something that historically has seemed at odds with the co-op effort. A great example is the Renaissance Co-op in Greensboro, where the community decided to solve their long standing food desert by creating a community store.
KDC: What do you see as the biggest challenges?
JC: It can be difficult for even the most successful co-ops to provide competitive, accessible pricing while simultaneously meeting the goal of fair wages. Additionally, although co-ops have access to larger data stores, it is often underutilized. This means that they respond more slowly to sales and market trends. My goal with my co-ops is to keep them aware of these resources and provide recommendations for the best ways to utilize them as part of a larger operational strategy.
Food cooperatives also typically lack the ability to cut costs by purchasing huge volumes of product. They are limited by their smaller floor plans and limited warehouse space, not to mention the fact that many co-ops only have one store location. One of my favorite projects currently is an analysis of the feasibility of a share purchasing cooperative for several of the Philadelphia area food cooperatives. This purchasing cooperative would allow the participating co-ops to store more product from their largest vendor, allowing them to take better advantage of promotional pricing. It could also significantly improve their relationship with local vendors because it will reduce the number of delivery locations while increasing order size and guaranteeing that they are able to collaboratively meet purchasing minimums.
KDC: What keeps you inspired?
JC: Because I work remotely, I have the freedom to travel. I get to see cooperative businesses all over the country – from Bloomingfoods in Bloomington, Indiana to the New Orleans Food Co-op to the East End Food Co-op in Pittsburgh, not to mention all the wonderful cooperatives I have the pleasure to work with in the Greater Philadelphia area. All of these successful organizations and the enthusiastic people behind them keeps me inspired!