CASE STUDY: Natural Foodstore Diss "Co-operation was the natural choice"

When the owner of the The Natural Foodstore in Diss, Norfolk, announced her plans to retire after over 25 years, workers at the store decided to take action.

They didn’t want to lose their livelihoods or see the market town lose a business that provides a valuable service to the local community.

Along with three of her colleagues, Rebecca Everall, worker at the store for 15 years, set about buying the business and turning it into a co-operative. And thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign and support from the Hive, it’s now owned by its workers and is going from strength to strength.

“Takings are up since we’ve taken over, things are going well,” says Rebecca, who attributes this to a number of things: “There was a lot of publicity for our crowdfunder campaign and a lot of regular customers donated, so they feel like it’s their shop, they feel involved. We’ve also got our social media up and running and we’ve been working on our publicity. We’ve redesigned, redecorated and refurbished the shop too, so it looks better – and the customers really like it.”

Rebecca and her colleagues received personalised, tailored advice from The Hive to assist with the employee buyout. The support was delivered by Hive Providers Andy and Rhiannon, which helped them optimise the layout and visual merchandising in the shop, as well as their marketing and social media.

“Rhiannon gave us some excellent marketing advice and her guidance on the store layout made perfect sense. We’d have come to those conclusions over time but it was great that we got her input at that stage.”

And the comprehensive expert advice from The Hive helped in many other ways:

“The support enabled us to navigate the process of purchasing the business. We gained a better understanding of what it means to be worker-owned and how best to make collective decisions on all aspects of running the shop: incorporating as a company; establishing good employment practice; running payroll; negotiating our lease – the help we received from Andy and Rhiannon to do all of that was invaluable.”

Rebecca acknowledges it’s been challenging too:

“I’ve taken over doing the accounts and it’s a massive learning curve. Andy gave us a day, talking us through setting up with HMRC and our requirements as a business – and that was a great help. We’ve all had to do a lot of learning but we’ve all really enjoyed it. We love being a co-op and have put a lot of ideas into place that we’ve been harbouring for some time. We’ve all found it invigorating.”

So with a renewed sense of energy and purpose, the owners of The Natural Foodstore have plenty more plans to build on their achievements. “There’s lots of scope for community involvement in Diss,” says Rebecca. “We’ve joined the Heritage Triangle Traders Association and plan to take part in community events. In the longer term, we want to provide educational material and talks on a leading healthy, ethical lifestyle, and the joys of co-operation!”

So has becoming the owner of the shop made Rebecca’s working life more satisfying? “Yes, it has. I liked it anyway, it’s not that we were miserable. We’re all really mutually supportive and get on really well. And we’re all full of ideas and feel really involved.”

Find out more about Natural Foodstore Diss

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Groups and co‑operatives can apply for support throughout the year. Find out more and apply today at: www.thehive.coop/apply

Hear from other groups and co‑ops who have received support from The Hive.

Written by leila.osullivan
Updated: 26/04/2018