Locally-owned and operated grocery stores have long been a cornerstone of their community. They provide essential services to their neighbors, including access to fresh food and household products, and serve as a market for farmers, producers, and artisans. Recognizing the role that these businesses play in communities, the WVRGN grew out of a Healthy Food Financing Initiative grant. It's the Coalition's goal that these businesses are sustainable and successful as they not only feed their community but also source locally grown agricultural products.
Together with several partners, we have created the West Virginia Grocer Toolkit to help folks start the process of becoming an independent grocer. Find it here!
Blue Ridge Bee Company, Princeton, WV
To ensure that rural grocers are set up for success, the Coalition facilitates access to:
Through technical assistance, rural grocers are able to evaluate their business model and gain knowledge and skills to increase efficiency and sustainability. Each grocer is connected with a technical assistance provider specializing in rural community and economic development to complete an individual assessment and receive a tailored technical assistance plan.
These plans may include training in the following areas: utilizing accounting software such as QuickBooks; learning to read and prepare financial documents such as balance sheets, profit & loss statements, and cash flow analysis; planning for waste and inventory management, garnering customer feedback, establishing their retail operation through stock rotation, store layout and design, community engagement and marketing; and more. Here you can find part one of our Technical Assistance Assessment. If you are interested in learning more, contact Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org
The WVRGN provides opportunities for rural grocers to meet each other through training classes, networking events, and trade shows. The goal of this peer support is to create a community of rural grocers that offers a support network that grocers can call on for advice and compare best practices. Additional benefits of working with other rural grocers include creating shared marketing campaigns, cooperative purchasing, and preventing new businesses from having to "reinvent the wheel".
Barbour County Community Garden Market, Philippi, WV
In the Coalition's work with farmers, food businesses, and rural grocers, we've often heard the phrase, "if I only had $5,000, I would buy this piece of equipment and it would add this aspect to my business, generate additional income and I would be set up to do the more things in the future." The Coalition recognizes that access to capital, and especially small amounts of capital, in a risk-adverse culture is the second largest barrier for businesses in this sector--second only to access to the physical building. For these reasons, the Coalition developed the Revolving Equipment Fund (REF) as an equitable alternative to traditional financing that places connection to community needs and passion for success ahead of a credit score.
Wardensville Garden Market, Wardensville, WV
Revolving Equipment Fund
The Revolving Equipment Fund (REF) utilizes philanthropic dollars to help rural grocers, who provide essential services to their communities, access what they need while maintaining 'skin' in the game. When the rural grocer completes their tailored technical assistance plan, they identify the most critical and integral piece(s) of non-fixed equipment that could increase the viability of their business and that they are prepared to lease via a no-interest, lease-to-own model. Once the lease is approved and established, the Coalition will use the recouped lease payments, along with a nominal origination fee, to purchase additional equipment for the next grocer that is ready for assistance.
For example, the research has indicated that delis located inside of small grocery or corner stores generate income that is significant to the success and viability of the grocer's business. These are businesses that otherwise have small margins, high overhead costs (due to electricity costs for running cooler/freezers and the large square footage needed to display a variety of food items), and high waste budgets. This REF could help the grocer have access to additional display coolers or a heated display case and an additional cooler, while they build out the space to include a three-bowl sink and purchase the supplies needed to start a deli--all leading to a more robust, sustainable business.