Membership superstore to benefit the community

by wazir ali
(Pakistan )

Visitor Question: I am from Pakistan, and I want to solve my community's problems. I want to open a superstore and have community people buy everything in my superstore. At the end of the month I would invest 30% of my monthly profit in community problem-solving. It is a membership method where every person of the community buys everything there. I would start with basics items just like milk shopping and vegetables and Kirana store. So please tell me how I can start this project. Please help me regarding this.

Editors Reply: First of all, you may know from reading our website that we are not from Pakistan and would be unable to give you specific advice that would work for certain. However, we can give you a few ideas to think about.

It is great that you want to help your community. The three biggest questions about whether this will work though are these:

(1) Are you known in your community as someone who wants to serve the community in an unselfish way?

(2) Who if anyone stands to lose because of your superstore? For example, are there small stores and individuals selling items now? How would they feel about competition from your superstore? What will happen to them and to their families if you take away some of their business?

(3) In a related question, do people there have any more money to spend on food, including milk and vegetables? (For the rest of our visitors, we think Kirana is a grocery store system in Karachi that takes orders online, but we are not sure of that.)

If you feel that your motivations will be trusted, that you will not be taking sales away from anyone else, and that people can afford more food than they now can buy locally, then go ahead and start your superstore.

You say that you want to run this on a membership model. Determine whether people have to pay a modest amount for this membership, and then only members can buy from your superstore, or if not that, exactly what membership means in your case.

In the U.S. we have some food co-ops (cooperatives) where usually people pay membership dues every year and then they also work in the co-op a certain number of hours per year. Then the co-op goes to a large wholesale grower or distributor and purchases popular and common grocery items in a large quantity and sells household quantities to its members at a price lower than what is offered in for-profit grocery stores. Sometimes the co-ops allow anyone to buy there, but offer their members a discount on all purchases.

Often the co-ops are only open for business a limited number of hours each week, since most of the labor comes from co-op members who might be working at their jobs at other times of the week.

To understand more about what we are saying about food co-ops in the U.S., please see the Food Co-Op Initiative website.

Now let's suppose for a moment that you are not able to answer our first question, the one about being known and trusted in your community, with a firm yes. Perhaps you are young, or you have just moved from somewhere else. In that case, we think you can still do what you are proposing, but you need to borrow some trust from other people. So talk individually with well-known and well-respected people in the community and gain their trust first. Ask them if they will serve as your board of directors or your advisory committee.

Your board then would receive regular information from you about how much money you are receiving and how much you are spending, so that the community can have faith that you are managing your finances properly.

Your board or advisory committee then also would help you decide how the 30 percent of profits that you want to donate should be spent. This way the community can come to understand that you are not just picking your pet projects to support, but that you are putting your profits into projects that enjoy the support of other community leaders as well.

This step seems to us to be very important, because without community trust, we don't think your superstore will thrive unless there is absolutely nowhere else for people to shop.

If you find that there are some honest concerns about taking business away from other people who are selling food now, you might be able to bring them into your business somehow. It would be worthwhile to have a conversation with them to see if they would be willing to be your partners.

Lastly, if you do not believe that people have any more income to spend on food, we cannot imagine that you will be very successful. In that case, choose some other community development projects from our website instead of the superstore.

To be honest, our best advice about this is that if you do not have experience selling food in Pakistan, you need to gain some experience first by working for others who are in that business. It will not benefit your community if you try this and fail because you do not understand some of the possible problems in selling food.

We hope these comments will help you to set yourself up for success in starting a membership superstore that would benefit your community.

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