How to Train Your Startup

Maria and I just got back from an awesome trip to Providence, RI where we facilitated a 2 day training for Urban Greens Food Co-op, a startup about to open. As we were wading through the muddy Customer Service waters, I started to think about all the training startups need to be successful and remain on top of the competition - as if opening a store wasn’t stressful enough. Then it occured to me that I know a lot of startups that just don’t do any training at all! They rely on the knowledge of their staff and managers. While I’m sure that method has worked for other in the past, it made me think about building better stores for the future. Just how much training do we need to provide for our startups and how do we do it? We focus on 3 key areas and fill in with related subjects. We find that 2-3 days of training and startup staff have a good overall understanding and can answer questions correctly when quizzed again by their managers :)

Customer Service

Maria and I provided 2 core Customer Service trainings, Customer Service 1 and Customer Service 2. The first training focused on what customer service is and how to give your customers the best experience you can throughout the entire store. We used this graphic to help illustrate the importance of great customer service. One thing we really tried to drive home is the 10-4 Rule. Basically, any time you are within 10 feet of a customer, you need to make eye contact and smile at them and any time you are within 4 feet of a customer, you need to say hello. If you follow this rule, theoretically, you will acknowledge every customer 100% of the time. If you want a little more detail, use this worksheet to walk you through a more in depth look at the 10-4 Rule.

The second part of our Customer Service training walks stores through the process of dealing with difficult customers. For the most part, we’ve all been on both sides of this situation; I’m sure you’ve had a few choice words with your cell phone or internet provider, right? We walked through real life examples and how to respond appropriately in those situations.


The second topic we covered was the exciting world of margins - yay! It’s crazy how often we come across grocery store staff that have no idea what a margin is or how it’s affected. The goal for us is not necessarily how to figure out margin (come on, math isn’t fun for all of us!) but how to recognize what practices and processes affect margin. We want people to walk away with the knowledge that;

  1. You don’t have to raise prices to raise margin!

  2. Even the front end plays a part in margin. Misrings, anyone?

  3. If you’re not hitting your margin, try checking inventory, labor and how many supplies your department is using before you try adjusting your overall margin.

  4. Waste! Shrink! They play a big role in your margin so make sure you have goals and you stick to them.

You can use this little cheat sheet to explain margin and how it differs from markup.


This is one area that ALL stores can use a brush up in! Trends change often enough, it’s hard to know what the standards are and how to use them. Typically, we find that;

  1. There is a system for product placement and selection!

  2. If something isn’t selling, figure out why before you just stop selling it.

  3. Where you put the shelf tag matters!! Use this graphic to help make sure you always put it in the right spot.

  4. There is a strategy to picking your product! You can use this matrix to help you know if you should carry certain products or not.

Category Management is also an area we focus on, mainly because we find that stores don’t know the difference between merchandising and category management. We tell people that;

  1. Category Management is NOT merchandising. A store has Departments such as Grocery, Produce, Dairy, Deli, etc. The product on display within those departments are grouped in sections of like product. These sections are the "categories" in Category Management.

  2. Category Management happens when a category is defined, analyzed, planned for, and acted on by industry participants in that category. It's a vertical system involving collaboration among manufacturers, marketers/analysts, distributors, and retailers.

  3. The goals are to maximize sales and profitability for each category.

You can check out our more in depth worksheet on Category Management for a deeper dive.

These are just a few of the training areas needed for startups, and let’s be honest, all stores. We find that if you can have quarterly trainings on the big umbrella topics, like customer service and margin sprinkled with some more in depth trainings like Category Management and Merchandising, you’re in pretty good shape.

Things you may not think of about Site Selection

By Maria Rehlander

Congratulations! You are ready to start looking for a location for your new grocery store! You have community interest and have your funding in place. This is a very exciting and yet intimidating stage. One of the first things you will to get is an updated and market study to help guide you to the store’s best location.  Besides location, other important factors to take into consideration sales potential, competitive conditions, support of business and City relationships, and even cultural conditions such as language difference and religion. We would like to provide you some additional considerations and criteria with the intent to help you select the best site that will meet the store’s goals.


1.       Zoning: Review the city’s local zoning code and/or reach out and talk to the building official. They will be able to help you determine if the site is zoned for your store, how tall your building can be, how you can provide signage directing clients to your building. They can tell you if the building is protected by a historical preservation and if so, they can help you determine what restrictions and limitations you will have in remodeling an existing building. Make sure when you are narrowing down your sites, you get a class I a site survey. The site survey will show you the exact property lines, which will help to delineate the city’s local code building setback requirements.  The setback requirements will determine where your building can be on the site, as well as how big it can be. Also, you can’t build on wetlands and easements, so you want to make sure that if wetlands exist on the site, you can still achieve your building’s program requirements.


2.      The store and its customer entry should be very visible from the main street and should be positioned as part of the business community. You want it to be easy for people to find you…if they can’t find you, you will lose sales.


3.      Landscaping should be used to soften the concrete, brick and asphalt environment and to “green up” the front of the store.


4.     Parking! Make sure you have ample parking stalls…it is very frustrating when there is not enough parking. The parking area should be accessible and visible from the main street. Parking should be on the same level as the store. If you lack parking or parking is not directly close to your building, customers will find other stores to shop at which are more convenient. As a rule of thumb, you want to make sure you have 5 parking stalls per every 1,000 SF of your building. Also, you need additional room for delivery truck turning radius (so deliveries can come and go easily – refer to #5), dedicated cart storage corrals and ADA parking stalls that meet local code, and 5-15 designated employee parking spaces.


5.      Can the site accommodate the back of store functions? Can the delivery trucks come and go without obstructing your customer traffic and parking? Can the site accommodate a loading dock? Depending on your store’s program and what the back of house needs are, this can be a critical player in determining if a site will be successful with your store’s needs. Deliveries to the shoppers will be by both semi and straight trucks. Most deliveries will happen from 6am to 2pm. There may be several delivery trucks at the store at once. The site needs to accommodate the ingress/egress of tractor/trailer trucks with 54’ trailers. Many of the trucks will have noisy “reefers” which code may require to maintain a certain distance away from residential areas.


6.     Is there room to accommodate for site trash and recycling? Each week you’ll have 1 or more pickups of trash, cardboard and recycling. Compost depends on your City code.


7.      The Building. Is the building new or existing? If the building is new, can the building’ square footage fit on the site and meet all of the requirements? If it is an existing building is protected by the historic preservation? Does the existing building have original drawings? We highly recommend if you have an existing building, you hire an architect to review the building and provide a feasibility study. There will be local code requirements that you may not be aware of, remodeling a project may require unforeseen items and updates that if you are not an architect, you will not know. Many people see a building and think all it needs is to be remodeled for A-B-C and then its good to go. However, once the architect is involved, you may find that in order to meet you’re A-B-C goals, you also need to do X-Y-Z and that will cost you an additional several hundreds of dollars that you did not account for. It is better to know what you are working with in the beginning and how much it will cost!


8.     Other building characteristics to keep in mind include: ground floor should be on grade at point of customer entry into the store, columns and other interior obstacles should be kept minimum in number and size. Use of full-size windows should be minimal, probably only by customer entry. Any other windows typically should start at 80” above the finished floor.

Seven Roots is dedicated to provide a “dream team” for our clients. We will show you a new way to build better stores! We are architects, interior designers, and store planners all in one that work on projects from the very beginning and through the very end. We also have partnered with an engineering design firm which can also provide you will all of your engineering needs. We are a one-stop shop. Together we can provide you with a functional, aesthetic, and cost-effective store.


Seven roots typical Site Feasibility Study process:

A project feasibility study will be provided for potential sites and our goal would be at the end of the study, we will be able to provide a vision of the proposed development to be presented to the City officials and other potential funding agencies as applicable.



Preliminary site planning and building massing can begin using the City plat maps, however once a final site is selected, an official boundary survey should be authorized to determine exact boundaries, potential easements etc.


Building & Site Program


Seven roots will evaluate the project’s opportunities and constraints for alignment with client goals and requirements. Establish a building program with various functions, required areas sizes and functional relationships.  Establish site requirements in terms of size of delivery trucks, waste management, etc.


Schematic Site & Building Layouts

Once this is established, we will provide preliminary building and site concepts for above. 



Seven roots shall identify the local, state, and federal regulatory jurisdictions impacting the project. Advise as to the challenges of the potential project in terms of code, structural strategies and cost comparisons.


Cost Estimate

Seven roots shall to assist the client in reviewing funding, scheduling and costs.


Schematic Building Image  

Seven roots shall produce color sketches relative to floor plan layouts, site layout and 2-3 exterior store renderings; all suitable for presentation to City Officials and potential funding agencies.


We hope these tips are helpful to you and when you are ready to start looking for a site for your store, please give us a call! We are here for you!

 If you want more information, check out our info sheet on Site Selection Criteria!

Connecting startups

By Nicole Klimek

I was on a phone call with Food Co-op Initiative’s Quick Start group of startups last night and I left the call feeling mostly excited and renewed. . . but also a little frustrated. There seems to be a huge disconnect between the startups and the support organizations they work with. When they can find them. And when they’re able to help. Isn’t there a way to connect all these startups - over 100! - across the nation and give them information in an organized, easy to maneuver way?

So naturally, my hand went into hyperdrive and my desk filled with yellow post it notes, trying to brainstorm some ways to connect startups quicker and more efficiently. Social media? Facebook page? Slack? What could be used that’s free? How could they converse while sharing documents, ideas, etc? After a few hours of odd looks from my kids and hand cramps from Google searches, I think I have a good list of tools startups can use to engage with each other and quickly get the support they need.

  1. Loomio - I love this platform! It’s cooperatively run and can be used to make actual decisions! We started to use it at seven roots and so far it’s a hit!

Loomio dashboard

Loomio dashboard

2. Slack - since slack was created as a tool to be used internally, it’s really good for teams that are within the same org. I like it because it’s user friendly and very visual - a must for this designer! The one thing that I’m not crazy about is the lack of linkability to websites and other platforms. I’m sure that will change over time!

3. Basecamp - I am so biased here! I love Basecamp! It’s a unique, very fun and stimulating platform that you can use as a team or with clients. It IS more team focused so it has some limitations as a multi-org collaboration tool. I’d still give it a try though, it’s amazing!

4. Others! There are so many great platforms out there; Asana, Redbooth, Trello, Monday, etc. I suggest getting together with your own group and trying a few so you can first see how it works internally. You may want multiple platforms even!

How to use them

It can be super daunting to try a bunch of platforms but I swear, once you figure out how to best use the chosen one, you’ll be so happy you did it!

  1. Invite all the startups in your region

  2. Invite all the support orgs you can

  3. Task people to make connections

  4. Gather lists of what content startups need

  5. Start gathering what’s on the lists

  6. Post it! Share it! Chat about it!

I’m sure we can collaborate more and make it part of our daily routine if we just found a common platform that can be used by all startups and someone to organize the launch. If you can think of anyone who would be good at organizing something like this - ask them! seven roots will provide all the content we can!