We thought some of you might be curious about last week's decision to transition into a co-operative so we sat down for a conversation with former Fancy Tiger Crafts owners Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran. The two opened their store on South Broadway 15 years ago to build a making community. It has become so much more!
Way back in 2020, this became a conversation. Can you share what the motivation was for moving in the direction you did? For a moment you considered selling the business, why didn't you? How did you bring this idea to your staff?
Amber: Jaime and I had been discussing ideas about taking steps away from the running of the business as early as 2016. We could feel ourselves getting burnt out, and we were thinking about taking sabbaticals, or possibly selling the business, but also couldn’t imagine still owning the business and being able to step away for any length of time. We both care a lot about this shop and the community, which makes it hard sometimes to think about anything else!
Two things got us thinking about employee ownership pretty early on. One, we were investigating what it would take to become a certified B-corp, and employee ownership is a big part of becoming one. Another thing got me personally thinking about employee ownership. My father sold his business in the ‘90s to a large corporation, and has regrets about the way the new ownership affected the employees. His frank conversations with me helped push me in the direction of thinking creatively about what was possible for our business and our employees.
We first met with a co-op lawyer, Jason Wiener, in June 2020, and he recommended we also meet with Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center (RMEOC). Before we started consulting with RMEOC we decided to present our idea to the staff at the next staff meeting. We then set up a conversation with all the staff and Ashley and Amy from RMEOC to see what it would take to really make this happen. If the staff weren’t excited about it, the co-op idea would have died then, but people were really interested in learning more and we’ve been working towards it ever since!
What are the advantages of making Fancy Tiger Crafts a co-op?
Jaime: Fancy Tiger Crafts has grown immensely since we opened in 2006. Amber and I did a lot with this business and are super proud of our achievements (and thankful for our community). At the same time, there are so many ideas that we haven’t been able to take on as only two people. We are excited for what a team of dedicated owners can accomplish. We think the perspectives gained with more people’s experiences is a valuable asset to running a sustainable business.
Amber: One of the reasons we really wanted to go down this co-op road, is the fact that unchecked capitalism causes so much damage to our planet and our society. When Jaime and I got our business evaluated, I realized any “good” we have done—things like offering health insurance, living wages, 401k for our staff, donating to causes we support, paying more for wind energy, recycling and composting for our store—all these things take away from the value of our business because they count against our “bottom line”. Capitalism doesn’t account for the value of a business’s impact on our society. Jaime and I have spent the last 15 years making our business decisions in a different way. We couldn’t imagine selling the business to someone who might think only about the bottom line. Turning this business into a co-op, filled with folks who care about the community and the environment, will be such a wonderful way to continue to keep Fancy Tiger Crafts on a path of being accountable to our community.
When you were researching and looking at other successful co-ops, what stood out to you?
Jaime: The lack of retail shops that are co-ops! We actually found it hard to find similar business models similar to ours using this type of co-op model. We hope that we can be an inspiration to other retail businesses to pursue a worker-owned co-op life.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing people in the craft and making industries? How do you hope a co-op structure will address those challenges?
Amber: A challenge for our shop has been finding eco-conscious and socially conscious products while being able to offer those products at a price that folks can afford and that can sustain a business that offers a living wage for our staff. This will continue to be a challenge. With more owners thinking creatively about the business, it will create new avenues for income.
One thing I think we’ve always done well is share our crafting experiences with our customers and inspire them with our projects. I foresee that being a huge part of what makes the co-op successful. The staff here are passionate about sharing their hand makes, and as worker-owners I see that continuing and being a huge part of the shop’s online presence.
In a perfect world, what are your hopes and dreams for the future of this business that you two created?
Jaime: That it can sustain its workers and community for at least another 15 years and offer a rewarding career to its worker-owners. We hope that FTC Cooperative will continue to teach and inspire its community in their crafting and that the community will embrace and support the new owners. We would love to see a larger percentage of the workers join the co-op!
Amber: We also hope to see the success of the co-op inspire other companies in our community, and elsewhere, to consider following a similar path of worker-ownership.
Can you share a bit about the strengths and advantages you see in the team that has taken on the leadership of the co-op?
Jaime: A huge strength and advantage in the four transition team members that make up the co-op are their experience. Everyone has been here at least 4 years and up to 14 years! They are very familiar with our company, our values, our products and our customers. They bring a fresh perspective and we’re excited to see them take the reins and implement some of their ideas and changes.
What are your best wishes or tips that you want to share with the new worker-owners as they go on this new adventure?
Amber: Lean on each other and support each other. Owning a business is rewarding and stressful and it’s just something to take one day at a time. You never know what is going to happen, but the cool thing about having co-owners is there is always someone to talk with about everything! And Jaime and I have seen a lot in 15 years and we are always here to help!
Jaime: You have so much support! Everyone wants this co-op to succeed and remember that and ask for help as needed. Amber and I have a lot of experience to share, your co-op bank, your bookkeeper, cpa, RMEOC - everyone is here to help you! And sometimes you just have to take the risk and make stuff happen. Amber and I didn’t have all the answers and have had many successes and failures. We found you just have to try things you believe in and then learn from any mistakes.