I've mentioned this in passing a few times, but if you don't mind, I'd like to get up on this soapbox for a minute and preach some truth.

 

Here's what we all know is wrong with the independant specialty coffee industry:  mainly, for your shop to be what you want it to be, you need committed, highly trained workers, who care about the shop, and are dedicated to becoming better at what they do every day.  Normally for any business, the way to have an elite staff like this is to offer them a competitive wage, maybe with benefits.  Of course most shops only make enough to pay little more than minimum wage, so all they can do is hope that their shop is cool enough that it's worth it for the expert barista to take the small wage in exchange for "the lifestyle".  Or you scale down your shop enough that you and your partner or whatever run it yourselves.  You suffer from high worker turnover, lack of commitment, lack of new ideas, and you spread yourself thin trying to control every aspect of the shop and keep it up to a high standard.

 

There is only one solution to this, and the coffee community needs to be aware of it as a viable option: The worker-owned coffee house; the cooperative model.  No, I am not a communist or an overly idealistic hippy; this is a highly effective, tried and true form of micro-capitalism.  Why do you need heirarchy to run a business?  Why do you need a boss?  This country was founded on democracy, why don't we incorporate it into our businesses?

 

Advantages:

1. the big one:  With every worker sharing in the profits and decision making, you can have a commitment to quality that single shop owners can only dream of.  Many baristas do their best because it's in their nature, but imagine the energy and effort these baristas would put in if every drink sold meant money in their pocket.  If the cafe they were working at was literally THEIR cafe and treated it as such.

 

2. the many armed manager:  A single manager is limited and overworked.  By dividing managerial tasks among all the members, you can do everything you ever wanted to do with a cafe, and do it better.  For each task a single person is accountable, and more effective because it's the only task they need to focus on.

 

3. the startup: there are so many passionate baristas who have dreamed of owning their own shop, and almost none of them have access to the capital it takes to do it, or the ability to get bank loans.  F%#@ the banks, they got us into this mess in the first place, we don't need them.  If each member can scratch together a few thousand, you're probably almost halfway there.  There are many non-bank lenders out there, especially for coops, grants, crowdraising websites...  And if you have 8 or 9 workers, it's 8 or 9 times easier to fund your business than it would be on your own.

 

4. no decision gets made without you.  It can be hard to get everyone to agree on some things, but this also means that each major decision gets scrutinzed, discussed, and researched thouroughly.

 

5. financial advantages: you don't have to pay worker's comp tax because everyone's an owner.  Also, you pay very little tax on the business income because at any time you can divy up the business' earnings and give it to yourselves as tax deductable dividends.  So basically, you cut out employment costs and manager costs, raise your profit by out-competing everyone, have the man-power to do additional revenue raising things, and cut costs to outside contractors by having a large pool of skills and doing more things in-house.

 

My core members and I just got done interviewing nearly 30 highly qualified people with a variety of different skills and specialties.  All passionate about coffee, tired of having a boss, or tired of being a boss (this model also gives you the rare ability to own a business and actually live your life a bit), tired of their hard work being overshadowed by useless co-workers or ignorant owners, and tired of being paid almost nothing to do a job that if done right takes years of experience.  On the job listing I stated that it would take some financial contribution, and about six months until we open, yet people have been scrambling to be a part of it.  Once we have the group and pool our resources, we can work out the lease for the building we want, get the permits going.  If things are on schedule, we'll be open in 6 months.  Of course they probably won't be on schedule, but we're prepared for that.

 

How to start:

-research research research research.

-learn your state's coop laws, get in touch with cooperatives, ask them (somewhat informed) questions and they will help you, talk to cafe owners and small business owners.

-write your business plan.  If you need help, look for free business plan writing workshops, there are probably some in your area. 

-Assemble a core group.  Not just anyone but people you know you can trust and depend on, and who share your general vision of what you want the shop to be.  You only need 2 or 3 people to get the ball rolling.  When your core group is SURE they will see this through to the end, put up ads advertising for applicants.  I made the mistake of wasting a lot of time asking a lot of friends, acquantances, and random baristas if they were interested.  And of course everyone was "interested" but probably about 10 people have come and gone from our collective.  Instead let people who really want it come to you and compete for the position.  Pay the $75 for the craigslist job posting, it's the best money I've ever spent.  You have no idea how many people have just been waiting for an opportunity like this.  Before you advertise for the position, make sure your business plan is solid: 1. you'll get more serious applicants that way, and 2. it will ensure that the people coming to you already generally agree with your vision as a foundation. 

 

I had to write this.  I've seen people post and post about the frustrations in this business, and experienced most of them myself.  I believe this is the only way the specialty coffee industry can improve, you've all experimented with every brew method imaginable, and micro roasters aren't going to get much better than what we've got now.  The only way to be better is by raising the consistancy of quality and dedication in our shops, and the only way to do that is by making being a barista a financially viable job.  There are just too many intelligent, passionate, creative coffee people out there not to tap into that potential; merely employing them is a waste of their potential.

 

Viva Barista

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Another interesting topic!

In our area these types (http://www.rrcoop.com/structure.php,) of co-ops work extremely well
There are grocery stores, gas stations, banks that are very large and very profitable. I look forward to my $300-$600 gas rebate every year!
On the other side:
I supply a few workers co-ops, I always love visiting them, great people, great atmosphere. From an outsider looking in though, they do seem to to lack direction, take a long time for decisions to get made, staff turn over seems high, they tend to also have a reputation of not being reliable.

I am the sole proprietor of my small business, I have a vision and goals that I hope to achieve and would find it very difficult in a co-op model at this time.
I do hope that on day I can either move to a co-op model or a Employee ownership structure. (http://www.esop-canada.com/) when we become successful.
If a business is successful, I strongly believe that it should be investing in its most valuable resource; its workers instead of the share holder.
We have a very large coffee franchise that is always in desperate need of employees, they post record earnings every year, store owners and shareholder make huge profits. The staffing problem seems so simple to solve, Invest in your employees, make it a career instead of a job. Everybody benefits, stores are more stable,employees happy, local economy flourishes!
bottom line; sustainable local economies is the change I think we need "buy local/invest local".

Thats just my opinion
Cheers
You said:
"Here's what we all know is wrong with the independent specialty coffee industry: mainly, for your shop to be what you want it to be, you need committed, highly trained workers, who care about the shop, and are dedicated to becoming better at what they do every day. "

The problem is not that the system needs to be scraped but it needs to change from the top down.
The solution to the above problem is to hire people who care and are already dedicated to becoming better in other areas of life.
By dangling money in front of the face of some ingrate you will not then reform him. There's an old saying that goes, "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still"
You will always have to be the boss and enforce a standard. The problem is not with the system it is with the people. There are plenty of restaurants out there where the employees are passionate, dedicated, always improving etc...
is this because they are paid well?...later on maybe...
but first they were hired because they were ALREADY passionate, dedicated, always improving etc...
There are so many chefs in training as we speak, who are doing a "stage" in a kitchen...where they work for FREE just for the experience.
Now...if we as an industry insist on hiring bums and acting as if we are going to reform them by our magical training prowess....we are fooling, and have been fooling ourselves.
Yes we have to give our employees benefits and treat them well...treat them great! But I still expect a lot from them from the very beginning.
Many owners and managers open their bars and immediately lose control because they hire out of desperation.
When owners start hiring "up" then we will see a change in the bleak landscape of apathetic baristas. They should be weeded out in the hiring process. And if that does not work, once they show their true colors in a trial period (which you should have)...then fire them. Seriously.
If you don't you will lose control and you will turn into the Barista version of "the cat lady"
taking in strays because they are cute but with an inability to properly care for them...eventually you will end up having to burn the thing down or get used to the smell.
I think you mean that the solution doesn't provide the right answers for you. Like I said it's not for everyone. Personally, I'm happy to share the responsibilities of ownership and decision making to take what will equate to more or less a manager's wage rather than a single successful owner's wage. You're worried about group think and end results? Don't imagine you're doing this with your best buddies or joe schmoe hipster barista, imagine if you were partners with all the great people who've posted on this thread. Do you think that in a meeting to come up with solutions and money making strategies, that you would just kick back and let the group decide? Or would you come to meetings with ideas for how to raise profits and efficiency, and present them in convincing ways. When you're behind the bar are you going to let the rest of us do most of the work, or are you going to put everything you have into everything you do because yours and everyone else's paycheck is directly affected? Do you think that you all, with your slightly different ideas about quality and what a cafe should be, would just bang your heads together uselessly for hours, or would you be able to work together to come up with the best possible ways of operating the business?


John P said:
It's not that it CAN'T work, but the solution doesn't provide the right answers. The idea that this alternative will provide a better standard of pay for the workers really isn't so. In the end you have a group of workers, being paid like workers, not a group of owners being paid like owners.

Partnerships are tricky enough, but having 3 or 4 or 10 owners will bring more headaches and confusion and less reward. I have a few friends that I have known for twenty plus years, and I wouldn't go into business with any of them -- and they're all experts in their own fields. Not everyone is cut out to have a business, to be an owner. And the likelihood that a group of X people who want to have a business actually have the tenacity and skill and business smarts to do it is unlikely.

The reason there are so many hoops to jump through, such difficulty getting funding and creating a business, is to weed out those who are likely to fail. You sound like more of a leader than a follower, and if that's the case, step up and do what YOU need to do to have YOUR business. Maybe offer a buy in or a percentage of profits when management and staff have proven results. We can love what we do, but in the end, results matter. Reward results.
You're partially right. I have no intention of bringing on bums and slackers and trying to make them care about what they do by offering higher wages. I'm bringing on the same people you might hire, and might consider making into managers, and using a model where their paycheck is a direct result of the work they put in. And that also gives them a voice and the power to put their ideas into action. I am one of those people who constantly tries to improve and give great service and all that, but when I find myself working harder or caring more than my co-workers, I start to feel a little silly, like maybe I need to chill out, it's only a cafe job after all. And when I see something that could be improved, or that isn't working I know that I just have to deal with it because no owner wants to hear what he's doing wrong. I am not unique in this, just look at this site as evidence; these people already care, and they know what works and doesn't work in a cafe, and I've heard many brilliant and innovative ideas that could be put to great use. These are the people I'd want.

No, there will be no bums in our shop. We've just finished a rigorous interviewing process. At the top of our list we have cafe managers, business owners, people with degrees in marketing, graphic and web design, accounting experience, home coffee roasters, an assistant manager at a roastery, professional chefs and bakers, all with coffee experience, all ready and willing to be trained to competition standards. I had no idea we would get this kind of response, but there it is. These people are out there, they want foremost to do what they love, but they sure seem interested in a slice of the profits they help generate.






Deferio said:
You said:
"Here's what we all know is wrong with the independent specialty coffee industry: mainly, for your shop to be what you want it to be, you need committed, highly trained workers, who care about the shop, and are dedicated to becoming better at what they do every day. "

The problem is not that the system needs to be scraped but it needs to change from the top down.
The solution to the above problem is to hire people who care and are already dedicated to becoming better in other areas of life.
By dangling money in front of the face of some ingrate you will not then reform him. There's an old saying that goes, "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still"
You will always have to be the boss and enforce a standard. The problem is not with the system it is with the people. There are plenty of restaurants out there where the employees are passionate, dedicated, always improving etc...
is this because they are paid well?...later on maybe...
but first they were hired because they were ALREADY passionate, dedicated, always improving etc...
There are so many chefs in training as we speak, who are doing a "stage" in a kitchen...where they work for FREE just for the experience.
Now...if we as an industry insist on hiring bums and acting as if we are going to reform them by our magical training prowess....we are fooling, and have been fooling ourselves.
Yes we have to give our employees benefits and treat them well...treat them great! But I still expect a lot from them from the very beginning.
Many owners and managers open their bars and immediately lose control because they hire out of desperation.
When owners start hiring "up" then we will see a change in the bleak landscape of apathetic baristas. They should be weeded out in the hiring process. And if that does not work, once they show their true colors in a trial period (which you should have)...then fire them. Seriously.
If you don't you will lose control and you will turn into the Barista version of "the cat lady"
taking in strays because they are cute but with an inability to properly care for them...eventually you will end up having to burn the thing down or get used to the smell.
"Personally, I'm happy to share the responsibilities of ownership and decision making to take what will equate to more or less a manager's wage rather than a single successful owner's wage."

Are we talking about Doug Zell or most of the owners on this board?

Because my manager makes more than I do.

"Do you think that in a meeting to come up with solutions and money making strategies, that you would just kick back and let the group decide? Or would you come to meetings with ideas for how to raise profits and efficiency, and present them in convincing ways."

I like the enthusiasm but many of your comments smack of naivete. Partnerships can be difficult beasts. The question is: how are you going to feel and react if the group decides against your position, regardless of how "convincing" you present your argument?

"I'm bringing on the same people you might hire, and might consider making into managers, and using a model where their paycheck is a direct result of the work they put in. And that also gives them a voice and the power to put their ideas into action. "

My baristas paychecks are a direct result of the work they put in. The more revenue and profit the company makes because of their efforts, the more they can be paid. And, the best thing about being an employee is that they get paid every two weeks.

And if someone is working in a place where they don't have a voice or power to put their ideas into action, they should find somewhere else to work. In my shops, our baristas have those abilities.

" I am one of those people who constantly tries to improve and give great service and all that, but when I find myself working harder or caring more than my co-workers, I start to feel a little silly, like maybe I need to chill out, it's only a cafe job after all. "

I think this is the most curious statement of all. "It's only a cafe job after all" - Wow, that's exactly the kind of thinking I don't want in our company and the kind of attitude that gets an employee routed out and released.

I don't know about you, but we're changing the world in our shop. Constantly pushing forward and expanding our knowledge, our service and everything we do. You should be working harder than your co-workers. And if you start to feel silly about it, go work somewhere else.

A lot of what you have written is very idealistic and I commend you on that. You want to change the way cafe businesses are run and give people a voice in operations and their lives. Those are great goals. Where you seem to run off the rails is that you seem to believe that this can only be achieved in a co-op situation. Sadly, there are more failures in co-ops (or straight businesses) than successes - and many more co-ops that are run poorly because of the group think mentality and approach.

Much of your idealism can be birthed in a traditional business. Like others have said, it has to come from the top down. The difference for many people is: resources. Each operator had to find a way to finance their business. Not everyone could self-finance. Some went to private investors, others to banks, and others go the co-op route. No one path is "right" but all are perilous.

I hope your co-op is successful and that you'll write back in a year or two with actual field experience rather than yelp links to other co-ops that offer no insight into the business of the model.
Wow, great discussion; good points made by all.

Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story, which you must've seen Chris, profiles several successful co-ops. It's a model that merits great respect when successful, and one I considered myself. Ideally, it offers all the benefits you mention... diverse self-sufficient team, time to have a more normal life outside the shop, group financing, tax benefits, often green and sustainable, etc. In the end though, as I get closer to implementing my vision and opening my own roaster/espresso bar, I've decided NOT to go the co-op route for several reasons:

-It's hard enough to handle finances for a regular business let alone deal w/ the co-op model. Most accountants I've run across are not that bright, and to find one that understands co-ops would be questionable.
-My first experience in a partnership (and most partnerships I've observed) eventually disintegrated.
-It would be seriously difficult to find others with a similar vision who can match the experience I've accumulated over the years. (Perhaps this is idealistic too, but there are just SO many people who just love the thought of owning a coffee shop but don't know shit about coffee.) If I have to train people anyways, they're going to be a traditional employee.

I'm pulling for you man, but can't help to agree w/ much of Jay's comments. It IS time for a revolution in business modeling... away from traditional top-down hierarchies, but most smaller independents don't really operate this way anyways. By empowering employees, providing growth opportunities and rewarding them with incentives (including profit sharing perhaps), I think many of the same benefits can be achieved.
Jay-

"Are we talking about Doug Zell or most of the owners on this board?

Because my manager makes more than I do."

Then you wouldn't have much to lose by distributing pay evenly, would you? Except that you seem to believe that your business would fail if you let the group make decisions democratically. Again, nothing inherently wrong with dictatorship in business, as long as you're a benevolent dictator, which you seem to be.

"how are you going to feel and react if the group decides against your position, regardless of how "convincing" you present your argument?"
I'd feel pretty good about it. I don't know everything, and clearly someone else's position was more convincing than mine.

"My baristas paychecks are a direct result of the work they put in."
Now this is more naive than anything I've said. I've worked many jobs, and heard many excuses for why management "just can't afford to give raises right now, as much as we'd like to", or if faced with me having to leave the company to pay my rent, will offer a token raise and act as if I've swindled him out of a kidney. This trickle down idea doesn't hold much water when I have no idea how much profit is being brought in, and no guarantee that you will deem me worthy of a raise, or how much. Basically, me working extra hard for you for an eventual raise is a pretty low yield investment.
Or are you just saying that without your business, there is no paycheck? If so, you could just as easily say that without your employees, you have no business. Neither of those sound like much of an incentive to me, because service jobs and service workers are a dime a dozen.
I've also worked for larger corporations (not coffee) and been paid very well, with the enjoyable trade off of feeling like you're part of a human bridge, over which people in higher positions walk without even having to know that you exist. You can see why an alternate solution might be desirable to some of us.

"You should be working harder than your co-workers. And if you start to feel silly about it, go work somewhere else."

I understand where you're coming from and I agree to a point. I did end up quitting. Under the former owner, I put everything I had into the business because I believed in it, and enjoyed it, so I didn't mind the relatively low wage. With the change in ownership, it quickly became apparent that I cared more than the owner. The ex-Peets workers that replaced the old guard learned to care as much as the owner, so I was left trying to push the broken car, with the owner asleep at the wheel and employees sitting on the hood. So of course I did leave, but it was hard having invested myself as a worker for years in something, and watching my investment destroyed by someone who did little more than write a check. I bought the illusion that my work affected my paycheck. But that is only true if everyone involved cooperates in making the business successful. And if that is true, then why not make it a true cooperative effort?

I agree that this model is as perilous is a normal model, just in different ways, and in some similar ways. And the benefits are different but can be better for some than owning their own shop, or working for one. You came up with some good arguments based on your experience, but I don't think any of them can't be resolved. And of course your opinion will be skewed because you know the traditional model inside and out and it's worked for you, therefore this opposite way of business must be flawed. But they're not mutually exclusive; there is a niche for this model in the capitalistic system, it's not like I'm the first to think of this. And there are successful and less successful coops as precedent. I know that you and the other owners on this site are changing the industry, and I applaud that too. But I think this model can help to spread that change. Fundamentally, coops are ideal for businesses where the workers are there primarily out of a passion for it, since it's just about impossible to get rich in a cooperative. Did you think you were going to get rich in the coffee business? Did you think you'd achieve the dream for some of opening a successful business and then kicking back and watching the money roll in? Most likely it was for the idealistic purpose of making a living doing what makes you happy.

"Sadly, there are more failures in co-ops (or straight businesses) than successes "

Exactly. I didn't say it was bulletproof. I'm saying it can be a very good tool that is underutilized in small business because people don't know that much about it. Hence, this thread.

So yes, I'll be happy to get back to you when we're open and doing well. But if I waited for that to happen, there'd be no room for argument. I think we've gone over just about every pro and con of this system, and we've brought all this to the attention of the coffee community (at least this one). The cooperative movement has been growing for a while, and it tends to happen in clusters of types of business: groceries, bakeries, printing presses, day care (apparently), etc. I'm just trying to help set a precedent for coffee, which seems ripe for this model.

Thanks for your comments!
Christopher,

I think a lot comes down to how many are in the mix. Honestly, whether great people, barista, citizens, etc. some are not cut out for leadership/ownership. I would caution you to get rolling with as few pieces as possible, and expand "ownership" as you gain a firm grasp on the business side of things. I don't see how you can create enough revenue to support this model enough to satisfy everyone. Generally owners don't take any salary for a while.... how does that pan out in your model? Much of what you make as profit, should be continually reinvested in the business so you are always progressing, moving forward. Did you account for at least 25% of profits, at a minimum, to be reinvested in the business? What about star employees? The best people should be treated as such and compensated for it. When it comes to work, skill, and results, not everyone is equal.

It's refreshing that you open your ideas for criticism. Hopefully many of us experienced owners gave you a dose of reality to ponder. Whatever decisions you make, be successful.





christopher myers said:
Jay-

"Are we talking about Doug Zell or most of the owners on this board?

Because my manager makes more than I do."

Then you wouldn't have much to lose by distributing pay evenly, would you? Except that you seem to believe that your business would fail if you let the group make decisions democratically. Again, nothing inherently wrong with dictatorship in business, as long as you're a benevolent dictator, which you seem to be.

"how are you going to feel and react if the group decides against your position, regardless of how "convincing" you present your argument?"
I'd feel pretty good about it. I don't know everything, and clearly someone else's position was more convincing than mine.

"My baristas paychecks are a direct result of the work they put in."
Now this is more naive than anything I've said. I've worked many jobs, and heard many excuses for why management "just can't afford to give raises right now, as much as we'd like to", or if faced with me having to leave the company to pay my rent, will offer a token raise and act as if I've swindled him out of a kidney. This trickle down idea doesn't hold much water when I have no idea how much profit is being brought in, and no guarantee that you will deem me worthy of a raise, or how much. Basically, me working extra hard for you for an eventual raise is a pretty low yield investment.
Or are you just saying that without your business, there is no paycheck? If so, you could just as easily say that without your employees, you have no business. Neither of those sound like much of an incentive to me, because service jobs and service workers are a dime a dozen.
I've also worked for larger corporations (not coffee) and been paid very well, with the enjoyable trade off of feeling like you're part of a human bridge, over which people in higher positions walk without even having to know that you exist. You can see why an alternate solution might be desirable to some of us.

"You should be working harder than your co-workers. And if you start to feel silly about it, go work somewhere else."

I understand where you're coming from and I agree to a point. I did end up quitting. Under the former owner, I put everything I had into the business because I believed in it, and enjoyed it, so I didn't mind the relatively low wage. With the change in ownership, it quickly became apparent that I cared more than the owner. The ex-Peets workers that replaced the old guard learned to care as much as the owner, so I was left trying to push the broken car, with the owner asleep at the wheel and employees sitting on the hood. So of course I did leave, but it was hard having invested myself as a worker for years in something, and watching my investment destroyed by someone who did little more than write a check. I bought the illusion that my work affected my paycheck. But that is only true if everyone involved cooperates in making the business successful. And if that is true, then why not make it a true cooperative effort?

I agree that this model is as perilous is a normal model, just in different ways, and in some similar ways. And the benefits are different but can be better for some than owning their own shop, or working for one. You came up with some good arguments based on your experience, but I don't think any of them can't be resolved. And of course your opinion will be skewed because you know the traditional model inside and out and it's worked for you, therefore this opposite way of business must be flawed. But they're not mutually exclusive; there is a niche for this model in the capitalistic system, it's not like I'm the first to think of this. And there are successful and less successful coops as precedent. I know that you and the other owners on this site are changing the industry, and I applaud that too. But I think this model can help to spread that change. Fundamentally, coops are ideal for businesses where the workers are there primarily out of a passion for it, since it's just about impossible to get rich in a cooperative. Did you think you were going to get rich in the coffee business? Did you think you'd achieve the dream for some of opening a successful business and then kicking back and watching the money roll in? Most likely it was for the idealistic purpose of making a living doing what makes you happy.

"Sadly, there are more failures in co-ops (or straight businesses) than successes "

Exactly. I didn't say it was bulletproof. I'm saying it can be a very good tool that is underutilized in small business because people don't know that much about it. Hence, this thread.

So yes, I'll be happy to get back to you when we're open and doing well. But if I waited for that to happen, there'd be no room for argument. I think we've gone over just about every pro and con of this system, and we've brought all this to the attention of the coffee community (at least this one). The cooperative movement has been growing for a while, and it tends to happen in clusters of types of business: groceries, bakeries, printing presses, day care (apparently), etc. I'm just trying to help set a precedent for coffee, which seems ripe for this model.

Thanks for your comments!
"Then you wouldn't have much to lose by distributing pay evenly, would you? Except that you seem to believe that your business would fail if you let the group make decisions democratically. Again, nothing inherently wrong with dictatorship in business, as long as you're a benevolent dictator, which you seem to be."

Perhaps you fail to grasp the essence of the discussion - and that is finance. In any given business, there is only a finite amount of money to go around. A major concern of mine is the prosperity of the company so that my staff can be paid a good wage. However, this is limited by the amount of money the company generates.

Which is why in my opening post to this thread I discussed the issue of revenue and the amount needed to compensate a staff at a particular level. Whether a business is governed by a dictator, a triumvirate or a congress it's ability to compensate its members is limited. Sadly, no company represented here is like the government which simply presses more money regardless of spending. Nor do we have access to TARP-like funding when things go pear-shaped.

I find your reference of "dictator" to be quite amusing. Obviously, you have employment issues to attempt to use inflammatory language such as this. Quite possibly, "dictator" is apropos since my word is law within my company. However, if you're seeking some sort of remorse about this position, you'll find none of that from me.

Whether or not the business would "fail" through "rule by committee" is irrelevant in my company. Fact remains that I put up the money for the company, I have taken the ultimate risk and, therefore, I maintain the ultimate say in what happens with the company. Those who find themselves in disagreement with this situation of matters are welcome (and encouraged) to seek employment elsewhere.

Those who have chosen other routes of financing and business models follow other paths.

"Now this is more naive than anything I've said. I've worked many jobs, and heard many excuses for why management "just can't afford to give raises right now, as much as we'd like to", or if faced with me having to leave the company to pay my rent, will offer a token raise and act as if I've swindled him out of a kidney. This trickle down idea doesn't hold much water when I have no idea how much profit is being brought in, and no guarantee that you will deem me worthy of a raise, or how much. Basically, me working extra hard for you for an eventual raise is a pretty low yield investment."

Actually, the naivete is still in your realm. Once you get this co-op off the ground and really "get behind the curtain" so to speak, you'll see the real operational perils that plague every business. What was once, as an employee, seen to be some sort of "excuse" will become very real. You'll discover the true plagues of business and your tune will change.

"Or are you just saying that without your business, there is no paycheck? If so, you could just as easily say that without your employees, you have no business. Neither of those sound like much of an incentive to me, because service jobs and service workers are a dime a dozen.
I've also worked for larger corporations (not coffee) and been paid very well, with the enjoyable trade off of feeling like you're part of a human bridge, over which people in higher positions walk without even having to know that you exist. You can see why an alternate solution might be desirable to some of us."


You seem to miss the point that business/employee/paycheck are not mutually exclusive of each other. And if you think service workers are a dime a dozen then you're truly naive and I hope you end up with a shopful of these "dime a dozen" service employees that you obviously have no respect for.

Seems to me that you're really not much different that those people in higher positions who walk without even having to know that these "dime a dozen" service workers exist.

"With the change in ownership, it quickly became apparent that I cared more than the owner."

Ah finally, the crux of your position.

That's it right there. The business changed owners and you decided to remain working for someone who didn't care about the business. Too bad it took you so long to get out.

"I agree that this model is as perilous is a normal model, just in different ways, and in some similar ways. And the benefits are different but can be better for some than owning their own shop, or working for one. You came up with some good arguments based on your experience, but I don't think any of them can't be resolved. And of course your opinion will be skewed because you know the traditional model inside and out and it's worked for you, therefore this opposite way of business must be flawed."

You either aren't really comprehending what I'm writing or you're so blinded by your bad experiences and resultant beliefs that you presume a position that isn't there.

My opinion is "skewed" because I'm very strong in my vision for what I want out of the business. I don't think the co-op model is flawed - look at R.E.I., that's a co-op model that's extremely successful (and one that I've been a member of since 1988). The model isn't flawed, it's the execution by many co-ops that is flawed.

" I know that you and the other owners on this site are changing the industry, and I applaud that too. But I think this model can help to spread that change. "

I hope you actually re-read what you've just read here. Supposedly, we're changing the industry. That's nice to hear but the bottom line is that we're actually "doing" and not just planning or pretending. The owners here are already out there taking on tremendous risk for an elusive reward. That's the difference between you and those posting to this thread. They're doing. You're just jabbing on about why a co-op is "better."

Time to get out there and prove the model. Make it successful. All of us want to see more seriously focused quality coffee shops emerge into the forefront because it's good for all of us.

So stop wasting your time writing about why a co-op is better. Show us.

Good luck!
Christopher, It sounds like you have done your homework and due diligence thus far. I also share your belief that having ownership even if it is a small share, gives incentive.
There has been a lot of good thoughts shared here that should be taken into consideration. One thing that seems obvious, we have all heard it many times but I will point it out anyway... (sorry if someone already mentioned this) No matter how much research you do, and how many people you talk to there will still be things that will throw a wrench into your plans, ideas, etc.

You will want to be flexible and adaptable to new ideas and directions that you hadn't thought of before, or didn't plan on, and you will want the others in your owner group to be the same.

If you are considering a COOP as a business model, you are probably a flexible/adaptable person. Others might not be comfortable in situations that this business model would put them in and maybe for that reason don't think it's a good idea. Neither one is right or wrong, we will all choose what suits us best. For one it's partnership for another it's running a business as an individual, etc.

Anyway, have fun with it!

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