Here it is, Springtime, 2007. The Soup Peddler is a little over five years old. We're doing great. It's a happy little place. Everything's cool. And yet we're always scratching our heads over here about how to go forward. There are a lot of ins and outs, a lot of what have yous. We sit here and think and think and think. One of the things we think about is that there is a massive, throbbing collective brain of the Greater Soupie out there in the ether.
We thought to ourselves, "Why don't we harness the power of that brain?" In the past, I have used Soupie surveys to do just that. But I thought we'd use a different format this time.
As crass as it seems, I offered One Thousand Fresh, Delicious American Dollars for the most brilliant new idea for The Soup Peddler. Here were a few possible examples:
|You:||"You guys should advertise on TV!"|
|You:||"You guys should sell Soup Peddler
The Envelope, Please... This was a really difficult contest for us to judge, in part because of the vagueness of the assignment. Also, we had quite honestly already thought of most of the entries in one form or another... and had either acted upon already or discarded out of laziness or complexity. There were certainly some repeated ideas that we came to think of as the concensus ideas, generally in the form of family conveniences, incentive programs, and health-consciousness concerns... It was good to be reminded of these Soupie desires.
But then on the last day of the contest, a submission came in that sort of polarized our thinking. It was a bigger idea than the others, not quite as immediately usable as some... perhaps never usable, maybe a little commie/pinko and yet it was really the only substantive submission that had never previously crossed my mind. Maybe it's because of the attraction that youthful idealism holds for a grizzled entrepreneur like myself. It was an idea I could put in my back pocket for later. It was the submission of Laura Lucinda-McCutchin (pictured right), and in the end, I decided to give her the prize. You may find her winning entry below...
HARVESTING THE GREAT SOUPIE BRAIN CONTEST 2007
What if SoupPeddler.com evolved into SoupPeddler.COOP?
submitted by Laura Lucinda-McCutchin, with special assistance from Therese Adams, Steven Yarak, and Laura Jordan
Soup Peddler, the Coop? That’s right: coop, as in cooperative. Why? The cooperative structure combines the best of community vision and solid business sense. Wait, let me explain.
Anymore, the Soup Peddler has become an adventure and a community, no longer one single person. There is David the Souper Peddler, a.k.a. the Soup Peddler Soupreme, and there is the Soup Peddler which is all of us. So I wanted to think of a good idea that would help all of us. All I had to start with, of course, were my own experience, perspective, and concerns.
My biggest concerns are:
- that you, David, might someday burn out, and
- that growth of the Soup Peddler enterprise might dilute the community I value.
The cooperative structure offers tremendous benefits that come from the Soup Peddler community you catalyzed into being. With a coop, you would have options for lightening your burden and rededicating yourself to creativity, while entrusting the Soup Peddler adventure to the collective efforts of committed people who would work to ensure its stablity and continuity.
You might someday burn out.
How can I not wonder when your visionary creativity will grow root-bound and need a new pot? Self-starters are not necessarily interested in maintenance, and I worry about your getting bored and disenchanted.
- You would be sad. You might limp along with us, or you might need to leave the Soup Peddler enterprise behind to create a new wonder the world doesn't know it needs. Either way, it could be very hard.
- The Soup Peddler adventure might stagnate.
- Soup Peddler employees would be sad. Oh, sure, they’ll figure something out, but who needs that kind of growth experience, in the middle of trying to make a happy living?
- You would be stressed, worrying about your employees.
- If you leave us cold, Soupies will be distraught. Consumed with grief, we will be forced to go to the grocery store, where everything is new and improved, not tried and true.
- If you leave by selling the business, of course you’d conscientiously sell to someone making good noises about our Soup Peddler values, who’d then very likely betray us and turn it into an impersonal, mechanized fast-food chain.
How a Cooperative Structure Addresses these Concerns
With a coop, you’d be less vulnerable to burnout, and you’d have an easier choice if it hits. Whether you stay with the enterprise or move on to a new pot of soup, the Soup Peddler would be in good hands. You can go to Italy, take a year’s sabbatical, spread the Soup Peddler concept far and wide, start up a new amazing project, work in your yard, or all of the above.
If you stay, a coop would support you by letting the us all take responsibility and share your burden, including the hassle of taking flak when people grouse about change. The coop policy process gives give dissenters a voice and a resolution, in advance of change.
If you go elsewhere, you could sail serenely on to your next venture, trusting that a community of responsible people would carry on in your fine tradition.
A cooperative framework would nurture growth while ensuring stability through the steady, healthy gravity of vibrant community. I know, it sounds like a paradox, and it is. That’s life.
The cooperative structure builds on the energy of the community and strengthens it by encouraging and supporting commitment.
Accordingly, the rising success would be anchored around a core of committed people, who would be dedicated to supporting the enterprise by sharing their resources:
- regular ordering,
- creative thinking (for free, no $1,000 necessary),
- support in decision-making, and
- good stewardship, sustaining both the health of the enterprise and the relationships with non-profit agencies in the larger community.
- Anyone who orders from the Soup Peddler would be invited to join, which just by itself shares a communitarian message to all and sundry. People on the fringe of Soupieness would be drawn in, increasing the solid base for sustained life and growth of the business.
Possible Objections and Considered Responses
David might say: "But *I'm* the Soup Peddler, and *I* make the decisions."
Yes, and how wonderful that has been! Clearly, the world is grateful. Please, please keep it up as long as you enjoy it. If you think you might one day want to move on, this is a flexible structure for transition planning. You would retain efficient and effective and fun control as long as you wanted, while at the same time allowing for a smooth exit.
The Scaredy-Cats might say: "But a soup coop—that's never been done."
Oh, stop. The man invents bicycle-delivery-soup-peddling, and he's going to be scared of something new? I don't think so. Anyway, just look at these kids at Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery [http://www.blackstar.coop/]—that's never been done, and it's not stopping them.
The Chicken $#!+& might say: "But it might fail!" When a coop fails, it’s because the business in which it engaged failed, because they weren’t running things as a business. That’s not the case here. The business is already highly successful, filling an expanding market niche while sustaining steady growth. With Black Star and Wheatsville as examples, a Soup Peddler Coop could address challenges and avoid pitfalls.
David's Employees might say: "Yeah, but we need a paycheck." Daily operations would stay the same in a coop structure. There would be the same cash flow for employees to be paid.
David might say: "What about *my* paycheck—my *profits*?"
Appropriate compensation for the Soup Peddler Supreme would certainly be structured into the bargain. Of course. A cooperative structure offers more security, too, what with shared capital and shared responsibility. Security of personal cash flow means knowing you can go buy more yuccas, salvia, and crushed granite for your yard. That, and don’t forget: you’d get a hefty chunk of change when the coop buys you out.
Resource for Further Consideration and Practical Study
Steven Yarak, President of the burgeoning start-up Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery, has agreed to serve as a resource, if you like. He can share his knowledge of coop principles, the history of coops, and why the successful ones succeed. I think you’d enjoy theorizing with him and crunching numbers.
Did I mention the gazpacho? My, it is good. Oh my gosh, and everything you do, the food and the helping us all in weaving the social fabric. Thanks for all of that.
You are the hand that stirs the alphabet soup of the world. Don’t let’s forget it.
Do let me know if you have any questions, comments, jibes, taunts, or whatnot, for sending you this soupie cooperative manifesto. Thanks for reading it, and thanks again for all you do.