Retail Sales Cooperative Reevaluates Direction

Opening retail market in Indianapolis is 'no-go.'

Published on: Mar 22, 2007

Two years of planning and anticipation stalled out when it was time to put words and signatures on paper, forcing the new I.Farm cooperative to part ways with officials preparing to reopen the historic Indianapolis City Market in the heart of the capitol city.

However, that doesn't mean the end for I.Farm. Far from it- Stanley Poe, Franklin, one of the early organizers of the effort, says the organization remains strong. Membership is healthy and funds are available. In fact, the group is still seeking more members willing to buy a one-time membership.

The idea behind the co-op is selling locally-produced farm goods directly to consumers, cutting out middlemen, and developing the potential to deliver a superior product in freshness and taste. So far membership covers a wide range in terms of size and type of producers, from organic vegetable producers to lamb producers, such as Poe, to farmers with both large and small hog operations.

Here's how the concept should work, Poe relates. Members will have the right to sell product to the store. Original plans called for farmers to be paid 60% of retail value. Retail prices would be set after discussion with members and a manager, yet to be hired. "It's not a consignment operation," Poe insists. Members would be paid on the spot instead. Then profits from the sales operation would belong to the cooperative, in effect owned by all participating members.

Plans were also to maintain business hours year round. While most of the year products produced locally would be the primary offerings, some other products might be added seasonally, such as at Christmas, to attract customers.

Attracting customers doesn't appear to be a problem, Poe notes. A detailed market survey commissioned by the group in the past several months indicated a tremendous market potential in the Indianapolis and suburban area. That's why Poe says it's not enough just to have one member producing lamb, or strawberries, or apples. The Board of Directors anticipates that several producers for each product will be needed to keep up with demand once the store is open and the project is off the ground.

With opening the retail outlet at the Indianapolis City Market now off the table, I.Farm will look for new retail space, likely in central Indiana, Poe reports. Plans to hire a manager have been set aside until a location is identified. Instead of trying to rush and open this spring, the group has set a new tentative date for beginning operations in retail sales as April '08.

I.Farm's experiences seem to be just one more example that while direct marketing and going the value-added route can add lots of dollar potential, it's not without pitfalls and bumps in the road. Poe is confident that looking back on it in the future, this wills imply be a learning experience and a detour that I.Farm will get by. He still looks for a successful retail business marketing Hoosier-grown animal and produce products directly to consumers.