The “Rural Grocery Co-op Managers’ Network” has brought together managers from four cooperatives. Photos of these four grocery co-ops are shown in the photo above. Upper Left Photo: Fresh Start Cooperative (Geraldine), Upper Right Photo: Red Paint Creek Trading Post (Lodge Pole), Lower Left Photo: Big Flat Grocery (Turner), and Lower Right Photo: Neihart Store Cooperative (Neihart).

By Guy Gregory
MCDC Communications Specialist

The Montana Cooperative Development Center has established a training support network for general managers of start-up and fledgling grocery cooperatives across north central Montana. Called the “Rural Grocery Co-op Managers’ Network”, the group is supported by a generous, $16,500 grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), based in Washington, D.C.

So far managers have met twice for training and to compare notes on the challenges of operating their small stores.  “If one of us is having an issue, we can learn from the other managers on how to solve the issue,” says Fresh Start Co-op General Manager Beth Lewis.  Fresh Start first opened for business in 2017.  She explained that belonging to the network enables her to “learn how the others manage their stores” and added, “So far, our meetings have generated many new ideas.  These training sessions have helped me better understand the financial part of running the co-op business”.

Along with training and sharing ideas, managers also will be touring one another’s co-op stores over the next several months.  Lewis says she is looking forward to the next meeting in March when the network will visit Red Paint Creek Trading Post in Lodge Pole and Big Flat Grocery in Turner.  Linda Hutton, manager of Big Flat Grocery, is also anticipating the next round of grocery co-op tours.  “I’m looking forward to seeing what unique products and services the other co-ops are offering their members,” says Hutton, who adds, “I want to see if they are having success with these products and services, and consider if they are something we could incorporate in our store.”  Big Flat Grocery has been operating successfully as a grocery co-op for nearly five years while Red Paint Creek Trading Post just celebrated their grand opening in June 2018.