Being a small business owner can sometimes be overwhelming. If you are the sole owner of a small business, with the success or failure of your small business depending primarily on you and the decisions you make, it can be helpful to have other small business owners you can bounce ideas off of, commiserate with, and maybe even network with. This camaraderie can happen in a variety of ways—through business networking groups, online forums, your local Chambers of Commerce, and the like, but for some industries, there is an additional, even more collaborative, way to work with other business owners for the benefit of all.
Auto Mechanics in North County Work Together to Save Costs and Increase Exposure
One group of auto repair shop owners in San Diego has created an auto repair co-op called North County NAPA AutoCare Group. This group of independent, full-service auto repair and maintenance shops in San Diego’s North County all work with NAPA Auto Parts and are members of the nation-wide organization, NAPA AutoCare.
By forming a co-op, the member auto repair shops are able to share certain costs and industry tips. So, for example, if new automotive diagnostic technology becomes available, rather than each individual auto repair shop paying to have someone come out to their shop to train their technicians, the auto repair shops of North County NAPA AutoCare can pool their resources and put on one training event that all of their technicians in the San Diego area can attend.
The co-op also receives the benefit of additional marketing through their group’s website: North County NAPA AutoCare. On the site, which has a large amount of consumer resources and information, visitors can also find links to the websites of all of the San Diego auto repair shops in the group, as well as their contact information. They can read about the NAPA AutoCare Warranty that is recognized by all of the member shops, as well as the group’s Code of Ethics.
Other Types of Business Co-ops
This type of co-op works well for specialty-type businesses, but requires someone to take the lead. If that person is you, know that it can be difficult to convince other business owners, especially those who may see your business as their direct competitor, to, in effect, “join forces.” But if you come to them with a well thought-out plan, and you are able to articulate the benefits of forming a group, it may be easier than you think to bring others on board.
This approach doesn’t just work for similar businesses, like auto repair shops. It can also work for different types of business that are in the same general industry. For example, if you have a business that relies on tourists, you could connect with other businesses in your area that rely on the same customers and form a co-op. Your group’s website, with information about all of your members, as well as other information that would be helpful to tourists (local event details, maps, etc.), could become a “one-stop shop” for tourists looking for places to visit, stay, and eat in your area. Everyone in the group could benefit from the increased exposure and marketing that the group’s website would bring.
Choose Your Members Wisely
When forming a co-op, you would be wise to properly vet any small business you are considering adding your group, since their reputation can affect your own business’s reputation—either positively or negatively. Here are four things you should do, at the very minimum, to determine if a business would be a good fit for your co-op:
- Visit the location of any potential co-op member and talk to the owner in person (as opposed to only dealing with them over the phone or by email)
- Check their online reviews and Better Business Bureau ratings
- Ask other people whose opinions you trust for their impression of the business
- If their business requires that they have any special licenses, certifications, etc., make sure they are up-to-date and in good standing
Co-ops aren’t the answer for all small businesses, but for some, forming a co-op may be just the thing that propels your business to the success you hoped for when you started your small business.