A new cooperative is hoping to expand the reach and membership of a well-known brand in North Dakota.
Numerous companies in the Pride of Dakota program are banding together to form High Plains Cooperative, which will have a retail store in Mandan strictly dedicated to offering a multitude of Pride of Dakota products all under one roof.
"The reason that the High Plains Cooperative came to be is that we think we have a very high (profile)," said Marlo Anderson, president of the cooperative, speaking at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Minot on Aug. 9. "People know of Pride of Dakota in this state and in the region."
Anderson said many people enjoy going to Pride of Dakota holiday showcases, where they are able to find a variety of products. However, once the showcase ends and the companies go home, customers are left with few options to buy Pride of Dakota products until another showcase comes to town.
"One of the issues that we have is that if you want to purchase Pride of Dakota products after those shows, where do you go? Now in Minot you're very well represented, and it's very nice that you have a company called Home Sweet Home up here. They probably have one of the best selections of Pride of Dakota in the state," Anderson said. "Unfortunately, the rest of the state doesn't have that (level) of representation."
Many customers who attend Pride of Dakota events generally have to stumble across a vendor or two they are interested in, according to Anderson. He said going to a company's Web site is also an option some customers use, but it's difficult to put together a package of products when customers have to go to multiple Web sites for each item they want.
The genesis of High Plains Cooperative came about a year-and-a-half ago when Anderson was visiting with Chuck Fleming, director of Pride of Dakota, and Doug Goehring, state agriculture commissioner, about how it would be easier to let people get Pride of Dakota products year-round, not just around Christmas.
The cooperative just finished its equity drive Sunday, although Anderson noted it could be extended depending on how many companies had signed up by that point. He said the goal is to have between 100 and 125 and they're about halfway there, although it's difficult to nail down an exact number because there are still a number of companies wading through the complex paperwork process.
"It's gone very well, as a matter of fact," he said. "We have many companies that have joined."
Anderson said the retail store will give customers a consistent location to buy Pride of Dakota products from, and a Web site will make those products accessible to people who don't live in the Mandan area.
"When you go into that store you will not see any products made in China or wherever else. It will be strictly Pride of Dakota products," Anderson said. "We will have a Web site. I do not know the domain name yet, so I can't share that with you. But sometime in the future we will release that and you will be able to hop on the Web site."
He noted a unique aspect of the Web site is that is allows customers from all over the state and beyond to shop for a variety of products from many different companies in one spot. They can then be shipped to the customer or someone else as a gift with all the items in one box and only one payment made for everything in the order.
"It makes it very, very easy because the cooperative will actually be warehousing all these products," Anderson said. "You won't have to go from one place to the next."
The target date for the store's opening is Oct. 15, but Anderson noted there is a lot to do between now and then, so that date is somewhat fluid and could slip to sometime in November.
There will also be a restaurant in the store featuring Pride of Dakota products, which Anderson said should offer a very unique dining experience.
In addition to the retail store in Mandan, there will also be kiosks set up across the state. In fact, Anderson said they just signed an agreement with Dakota Square Mall in Minot that will put kiosks there for eight weeks this holiday shopping season.
"So you'll be able to hop up to Dakota Square Mall anytime that you like and take a look at the different products that we have available, which we think is very exciting too," he said.
Anderson then threw it open to questions from the audience. When asked about the logistics of bringing together all the Pride of Dakota products under one roof, Anderson clarified that not all Pride of Dakota companies were part of the cooperative, just those who bought into it. And among the cooperative members, only select items will be at the store. It simply wouldn't be feasible to carry all the products from all the member companies under one roof.
While the store won't carry all the products, Anderson said it at least will offer a much wider variety for customers to shop from.
A question about the kiosks concerned whether there would be items available for purchase or if they were simply there to allow visitors a look at different products. Anderson said it was actually both, as there would be products available for purchase on the spot as well as touch screens showing larger products such as furniture that would need to be shipped from the warehouse.
Another service they offer, which Anderson noted is specifically geared toward men who might be looking for a gift and have an amount in mind they want to spend but don't know what to get, is gift baskets bundling together a variety of products that can be shipped right to the recipient.
"One of the things that we plan to do in the co-op, and even at the kiosks, is we're gonna have a list of all the companies in the state that carry Pride of Dakota products," he said. "So even when we're not in the area, let's say at the kiosks you can always pick up that list."
Another question concerned the cost of joining the co-op. Although Anderson said he could only talk about the cost of common stock with co-op members, there is preferred stock that any resident of North Dakota can purchase for $5 per share with a minimum of 10 shares.
Any company interested in learning more about the co-op can contact Anderson at 663-4155 or preferably e-mail him at email@example.com, although he did note once again they must first be a Pride of Dakota member before joining High Plains Cooperative.
While Anderson said Pride of Dakota is part of the state ag department and probably always will be, he noted about half the 400 or so member companies aren't food based. He said one of the biggest challenges is recruiting companies that make North Dakota products that aren't food related.
He noted a pool cue manufacturer in Rugby that has been there a number of years but never joined Pride of Dakota because the assumption was it was only for agriculture-based products. That company will soon be joining Pride of Dakota and the co-op.
"We're starting to get more products that are not on the food side of things," Anderson said. "So I think that's what makes the Pride of Dakota label so dynamic and diverse now, is the fact that you can find both food and non-food items in that mix."