For several months, we've been talking about our new feasibility study. We retained Firebrand Cooperative, a co-op consulting group, to help the Board decide whether the Gerber building was the right place for us - and more broadly, whether Chicago Market as we envisioned it was even possible to build. We now have the results of that work.
Is Chicago Market operationally feasible? The answer is a resounding yes.
As we discussed at our annual meeting (you can view the recording of that meeting here), Firebrand returned with a number of very interesting findings that give us great hope for the success of the project. They brought together all of their expertise, and also consulted with co-ops and experts around the country in order to give us as much information as possible. We will publish their report in the coming weeks (after all, you paid for their work, and we are committed to transparency) but here are some key takeaways:
Sales. Our market study projected that the store would have good traffic, and Firebrand has confirmed and updated this. "Sales projections for the Gerber Building location are exceptionally high. There is no other location in the wider trade area that will match this site in potential sales volume."
Profit Margins. Firebrand informed us that because we are an urban co-op, our profit margins were going to be much higher than we had been estimating. This, combined with increased sales, caused our revenue projections to increase dramatically. It also offsets the higher urban labor costs that had caused problems in our earlier modeling.
Urban Comparisons. Most of the co-ops that we had been comparing ourselves with are in smaller cities or rural areas. Firebrand incorporated data from urban co-ops, which was quite different." Chicago Market’s potential aligns with a handful of highly successful food co-ops in the country operating in similar markets with a Dense Urban Model."
Local Possibilities. After surveying the marketplace, Firebrand put it well: "Chicago Market can own the local food space. No other competitor is doing this well and it could be a key differentiator for Chicago Market to have an identity built on leveraging local."
Design. Firebrand undertook a total redesign of the store, changing the way that we would receive products, the way people would flow through the store, and the layout of various departments. This offsets many of the problems that were previously identified with the shape of the building, and makes the operation of the store possible.
Based on their work, Firebrand enthusiastically supports Chicago Market continuing with our Gerber building project. "This is kind of a magical moment for Chicago Market - all those years of work, all those years of building, of waiting have come to this moment. It turns out that the Gerber building . . . it's a magical site." - Jacqueline Hannah, Food Co-op Initiative, Firebrand
(Watch the full video of Jacqueline speaking about our project potential at our Annual Meeting.)
Our negotiations with CTA are still ongoing, and there are still some details to be ironed out, but our level of optimism that the store can not only open, but be a solid success, has increased dramatically.
There are still hurdles to overcome, and this is where we need your help.
The most important hurdle is funding the Co-op. Even in the new plan outlined by Firebrand, Chicago Market needs to raise a substantial amount of additional capital. Some of this will come from banks and some from TIF, but a significant amount must come from our Owners. This can come in the form of Owner Loans, but also (newly!) in the form of tax-deductible donations.
Such a strong feasibility report, coming from some of the most established players in the co-op world, will, we hope, give both Owners and donors much more confidence in the success of Chicago Market. Several individuals have already pledged to lend or donate, once Chicago Market re-starts its fundraising campaign this spring. We will need money in the long term for construction, but also in the short term for projects like hiring a professional general manager and completing our redesign.
But we need many, many more people to step up, or despite its incredible promise and awesome vision, Chicago Market will not open. You'll see more about this in the coming weeks, but consider pledging to make an Owner loan or donation. If you want more information, please email us.
"I just can't stress enough that this is an incredible opportunity, and it's in our hands. Chicago Market is the largest start-up food co-op that is going to open in the nation in the last decade." - Jacqueline Hannah
We are incredibly excited and energized and ready to get building. We'll soon have new Board members; we have a wealth of new volunteers, and a plan created by the top experts in the field. We are confident that, with your help, we can get this store built.
Can you help us out? Email us:
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