Good Grocer Puts the Soul Back in Supermarket

Good Grocer Puts the Soul Back in Supermarket

With a shiny new location, Good Grocer is determined to prove you can grow a business with volunteer staff.

A sign hanging in Kurt Vickman’s office reads “Be a force for good,” reminding the founder and CEO of Good Grocer why his business exists: to make fresh, quality foods accessible and affordable for everyone in the community.

Unlike traditional grocery stores, Good Grocer relies on volunteers. “Because volunteers drastically reduce our operational costs, we’re able to pass those incredible savings on—not only to volunteers but to all shoppers who walk through the doors,” Vickman says.

In return for their work, volunteers receive a 20 percent store discount, a percentage that will gradually increase as the store thrives. More than 400 volunteers signed on before the store’s January opening in its new location. More are needed, but Vickman is confident interest will grow once people see the store.

“There are people just waiting to be asked to participate in something meaningful,”
Vickman says
.

The reopening of Good Grocer at 27th Street and Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis, on a stretch best known as Eat Street, comes two years after its first location on Lake Street was forced to close to make room for the I-35W expansion project. At 8,500 square feet, the store is more than twice the size of the original, and it’s sleeker too: white walls, modern shelves, neon signs, and a café (opening in the spring). It offers more than 10,000 products, including organic produce, fresh cheese, meat, and seafood, all at competitive prices. And for those who need more assistance, Good Grocer added a food outlet where second-rate items—like dented cans, banged-up boxes, seasonal items, or lightly bruised produce—are 75 percent off.

“The fractured nature of our community starts to get mended by relationships between hundreds of volunteers, formed around this cause of food affordability,” Vickman says. “The idea that ‘causes create the best communities’ is true. By capturing a community committed to this cause, we are fundamentally breaking barriers that exist economically and racially in our community.”

Beyond the economic advantages of Good Grocer’s business model, like being able to offer customers and volunteers low prices because of the store’s low operational costs, Vickman says running on volunteers gives the business a soul.

Connie Rutledge, CEO of Minneapolis-based social business incubator and accelerator Finnovation Lab, says businesses can be a force for good in many ways, such as by donating money or maintaining a sustainable environmental footprint. To achieve a mission beyond profits, she says businesses need to outline how they’re going to operate and how their operations serve the community.

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“The volunteer model is a great way to build community and momentum for your mission-driven business, but you also need to plan for a transition,” Rutledge says. “There will come a time, as a business grows, that you will need to move from relying on volunteers to being able to effectively utilize volunteers and a paid staff.”

Currently Good Grocer employs 10 full-time staff members.

“Volunteers are some of the most underutilized assets in the world,” Vickman says. “There are people just waiting to be asked to participate in something meaningful. We need to build the right structure to invite them in to participate and contribute.” 

This story appears in the Feb./March 2021 issue with the title “Putting the Soul Back in Supermarket.”