Let’s talk about some things that are true.
First off buying clubs are a bit of work. Using a tool like Manage My Co-op makes managing one easier but there is still a lot of work to be done.
But on the other hand, buying clubs are awesome. The communities they build are amazing. Working together for a shared common goal is thrilling.
So why do it? We have found that buying clubs provide their members, and manager, three main benefits- access, curation, and savings. Different clubs have different emphases but by and large groups all offer some degree of all three.
When you are buying in bulk you can often buy goods and foods that are otherwise not available in your community. One example we see often is with heirloom fruits and vegetables. A farmer might grow a special crop of kale knowing that the local buying club will buy the harvest. Alternatively, we see buying clubs buy cases of specialty apples that aren’t in local stores.
And let’s not forget chocolate. Have a favorite chocolate bar but no local store carries it? Buying clubs can usually easily aggregate enough demand to order a large shipment every few months. Just remember to stock up!
Buying club managers put a lot of time and effort into the products they offer their members. For food, they usually know the farmer or producer personally. They know the story behind the products. They know how the field is managed or the cow was raised.
Sure you can curate your own food but it takes an immense amount of time or money. As a group, you can share the labor and curate foods and goods that meet the desires of the members in your group.
For me (Kimmy) this is my favorite aspect. At our buying club in Eugene, we get the most delicious coffee from Cafe Mam. I bought it for months before I realized it was shade grown, fairtrade, AND organic. One of the members of our group had done the leg work to provide us with not only delicious coffee but with an ethical sustainable product. Oh, and it’s local too.
Chances are high you joined or started a buying club because it would save you money. Buying in bulk is naturally cheaper even if you have to pay for overhead expenses for your club. In our experience, we see groups save anywhere from 5-50% or more off of retail. Typically most groups average a 30% savings.
How much you will save will depend on the size of your group, what your buying club fees are (we strongly believe all groups should charge a fee), and what kind of products you are buying. You will rarely ever see a savings on dairy products. Produce, however, you can save a considerable amount. With toys, such as Melissa and Doug, you can save a lot.
I think saving money is the number one reason people start buying clubs. I also think as groups grow it becomes more of a secondary aspect to being in a buying club. Access to specialty foods/goods and curation of quality products will usually quickly take center stage. Sure, you will likely still be saving money as you go but I will bet you that it will not be your main reason for continuing to participate or run a club in the long run.
(And as an aside to buying club managers- we here at MMC have noticed that groups that foster curation and access are more sustainable and better managed in the long run. Groups that focus on savings tend to wind up with curmudgeonly members who gripe. Just our two cents. Want to chat about this? Drop Czarena or me a line)