Starting a Workers Cooperative
For many years now, we have been doing just that. In the early days the product got made through working bees in the community house kitchen. With the empty pots (glass in those days) all laid out on our tables. Filling happened with a big teapot. We had some resident craftspeople doing sales trips, selling their wares to crafts shops around New Zealand. They were more than happy to also market the Bee Balm product, and the shops were keen to stock it! At that time, all human effort aspects were donated out of good will, the profit went to growing the business and to buy developmental things in the community for general use. These were items like a second hand range for the community house or a trampoline for the kids to jump on.
After some years of steady growth it became to big to manage on a volunteer basis and a workers co-operative was formed with the clear understanding that the profits of the business were to go to the community development, not distributed amongst the co-operants. A number of rooms in the community centre were used to operate from. We developed a number of new products and developed a computerized administration system. Eventually we were growing out of the building. We asked the overseeing trust to allow us to have a mortgage on the land, so we could finance a purpose built building! This work was also done by community residents. Great to be able to have all that employment in this remote setting.
During the build, we re-imaged the presentation of the products. That gave us a very good boost in sales. In the new building, we were still filling the pots with the good old teapot. It was only after a community resident moved to the UK and started to sell our products there that we automated the filling.
We have a policy that does not allow for employees to work more than 30 hours per week. We encourage people work less, so that the employment opportunity can be spread wider. At present we have 12 people working for the co-operative. We have a rather flat wage structure with a difference of about $5.00/hr between the top and bottom pay rate.
Our profits get donated to recognised charities in New Zealand. At present 2/3 goes to the Tui Spiritual and Educational Trust and the rest gets directed elsewhere by the co-operants. Click here to go to Tui Balms to buy your balm today.