YUMA, AZ - Military wives who want to help supplement their family's income will have the opportunity to do so at a unique store in downtown Yuma called "The Ms. CO-OP Project."
According Christi Smith, who rented the space for the shop that plans to open this month, it will provide women whose husbands serve in the military a place to sell their own handmade products.
Smith, a mother of three whose husband is in the Marine Corps, said although the co-op is intended for military spouses, local women are also more than welcome to participate in the shop as well.
"This isn't just your average retail store," Smith said. "The goal of this business is to give military spouses and other locals the opportunity to sell their own products, homemade and otherwise, in a brick-and-mortar storefront."
The store is located in the heart of Main Street in the 261 Shoppes in Suite 6. It will be open from noon to 7 p.m. Some of the merchandise already slated to be sold include carry-and-conceal holsters for women, beard balm, bags, jewelry, origami necklaces and specialty yarn and knitting products.
"I fell in love with downtown and its beauty. The history and energy there is like nothing you can find anywhere else," Smith said. "It is a great location. Downtown Yuma is by far my favorite place in Yuma."
Smith said all that is required of the women who want participate in the co-op is that they agree to work at least one shift a week in the store and pay a small monthly fee of $50. If they are unable to commit to one shift, they can still have their product sold in the store, just for a slightly higher fee.
She explained that the fee is intended to cover the cost of the shop's rent, and with the participants each working a shift, she won't need to hire any staff, both of which keep the expenses relatively low.
"We are hoping to get enough people that we can do short shifts if we need to," Smith said. "Some people have kids and don't have daycare. We want to try and accommodate everyone's schedule. Hopefully we will have enough people to make it feasible for everyone."
Rebekah Meyers, who is also a military wife, added that because the store was formed as a co-op, it gives the women who chose to participate a more personal connection to the shop and the business conducted there.
"It gives people a sense of ownership of the shop," Meyers said. "They're not just making something and having it sold for them. They have a personal relationship with the shop and they are having to take responsibility for it as well."
Meyers added that, by all the women working in the store, everyone gets trained on how to run the business and learn about each other's products.
Smith said she came up with the idea for the shop after she rewrote an article released by the Military Officers Association of America on the unemployment and underemployment of military spouses for a blog.
The idea behind the store, she explained, is to allow women who dream of starting their own store the opportunity to do so in a supportive atmosphere, while at the same time learning the valuable marketing and business skills they will need to be successful.
She said many often turn to selling their products online because they don't have any other way to do so. While it is a good way to make some extra money, she said they aren't interacting with people and learning business skills.
Meyers added that what she found so appealing about the co-op is something she expects other participants will appreciate as well - it provides women and military wives who daydream of owning their own business a way to get started without having to run the risk by themselves.
"It kind of took all the risk out of it," Meyers said. "I thought `I can do this. It should be fun."'
Smith explained that being a military spouse makes it very difficult to start a business because on average, at least in the Marine Corps, a family moves about every three years.
"Honestly, the military doesn't pay very much, so having to raise a family on a very limited income puts a very heavy burden on the husband," Smith said. "So if the wife is able to do something to supplement that income, it helps. It also gives the wife a sense of accomplishment in herself. That is also very rewarding."
In addition to serving as a starting-point for women who want to own their own business, Smith said she is also hopeful that the venture will be successful enough that when a spouse is relocated they will be able to start up another store at their next duty station and promote the model all across the country.