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Another way to save money: start a buying club.

Several Countryside correspondents have talked about buying clubs and how they can save you money. They're right--buying clubs save both money and time, and have the additional benefit of helping you organize your needed shopping.

We started our buying club three years ago through the North Farm Cooperative, which serves all of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, and parts of Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana.

Starting a buying club is relatively easy. All you need are some interested people! Our "club" started out as an individual family and has since expanded to three families with various others ordering from time to time. The major determinant for size is the minimum order your club is required to place. Since we're close enough to North Farm to pick up our orders, our minimum is only $100. If you'll need to rely on North Farm's delivery truck, your minimum order will vary--the usual minimum for delivery is $500. However, if you live on an established truck route and will accept a road drop, your order can be as little as $100.

Of course, these rules apply only to North Farm. A buying cooperative in your area will probably have different rules and minimums. But the $500 is not too difficult to come up with if you order infrequently. We have twice reached this minimum without really trying. If you require delivery however, your club will probably need to be larger than three families.

We particularly like the wide variety of organic products available in bulk. In addition, there's also a wide array of health/beauty aids and household supplies. Most products are available either prepackaged or in bulk. You can get a small package of wheat berries or you can get 50 pounds. We buy mostly bulk quantities and caselots, often splitting them with other club members. You can usually purchase in small quantities also, even though the minimum amount may be three items.

By purchasing in large quantities several times during the year, we always have a lot of food on hand. We don't like to run to the store. For one thing it's too far, and for another, the variety is limited. In addition, every time you go to the store, you spend money. We figure the fewer trips we make, the more money (and time) we can save.

After several years of bulk ordering, we have a pretty good idea of how many supplies we need to get us through six months or a year. Grains store well in a 55-gallon drum topped with a heavy plywood cover. Tossing in a handful of bay leaves (purchased cheaply by the pound) controls insect infestations. Cornstarch, wheat gluten and cocoa last for years. Beans and dry pasta also keep well if kept dry. We even buy our shampoo by the gallon, saving on wasteful packaging and getting a good price to boot.

The structure of the club can be as formal or as informal as the people involved. Someone needs to coordinate the orders and several people will need to be available for the delivery. These jobs can be rotated, or members can serve "terms" and pass the jobs around that way. Some clubs order every four weeks or so, while others order sporadically. Set up specific rules about payments to the club for the products--is cash acceptable or should the club require checks? Who will be the contact person with the co-op? That person needs to give some financial info to the co-op. Decide where you can accept delivery--you'll need truck access and perhaps electricity for the frozen/cold stuff. Decide who will coordinate the splits of bulk items and caselots. If you can get 12 items cheaper than 10, what to do with any leftovers from the case? What happens if a member fails to pick up the food on time? Should there be a small markup to pay for any postage, phone calls, etc. the buying club incurs? Will the club actively recruit members, or should it stay at a smaller level?

Although I'm familiar only with the North Farm Cooperative, there is possibly a sponsor in your area. Good places to check are organic markets and natural food stores. Perhaps the folks at the local farmers' market would know. Look in any alternative newspapers in your area for ads. If you're in North Farm's service area, their phone number is 608-241-2667, address: PO Box 14440, Madison, WI 53714-0440.

North Farm Cooperative, which has locations in 12 states, recently increased the size of its Madison Wisconsin outlet store from 800 to 1,800 square feet, and added 20,000 square feet to its warehouse.

One of the store's main purposes is to sell packaged food that has been damaged, such as dented cans. It also sells discontinued food items. There are a lot of those. They aren't necessarily bad: they just didn't make the cut in the highly competitive grocery business.

More than 8,000 new food products are introduced every year, but only 500 of those succeed in the marketplace.
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Author:Carney, Bev
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1998
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