September is Seed Pricing

Egalitarian communities have trouble recruiting and holding members who have strong business management skills.  There are a number of reasons for this.  One is that these people are often not looking for us – if you really want to run a company or sell things, you don’t think to yourself , “i’ll move to the country and join a commune.”  Another is that the corporate world highly values these skills and the egalitarian compensation package (which is you get what everyone else gets) compares poorly to the mainstream one (corner office, secretary, fancy car, social status, real and imagined power, stock options and distinctly unegalitarian salary) .

you did not move to the commune for the money

you did not move to the commune for the money

So while these communities are relatively successful keeping the production lines running and churning out seed packets and hammocks and tofu and nut butters, we are regularly understaffed when it comes to people who actually want to run these businesses or sell our products.

At a community meeting a couple months back i freaked out.  It was explained to me that there was no systematic review of most of the prices of our seed packets.  While we have increased operating costs and insufficient payment to many of our growers, most of our seed packs have not changed prices in the last 5 years.  In essence, while our total revenues have been increasing, our margin on almost every seed packet has been going down for at least half a decade now.


Okay, back to first principals, if i am going to complain about this (which i felt like i had little choice about), i better be willing to step up and do something about it. Which is why this month is called Seed Pricing.

The process of analysis has actually been quite fun; i am working with a great little group which includes Acorn intern Clay, Ingrid, GPaul and Margot (who is not even a member). We have a large google drive spreadsheet with our own current and historic prices, other companies in our niche prices for similar and identical seeds (sometimes they only sell non-organic versions, further complicating the analysis), normalized allied companies prices (since they have different packet sizes), calculated price differentials between our prices and the average normalized allies prices, recommended price increases that keep us below our allies and on and on. It has been great to see this spreadsheet grow as we have entered more and more data, building a stronger and more precise case for how much prices should go up for our most popular varieties.

most prices have not gone up in over 5 years

most prices have not gone up in over 5 years

An early significant realization is that so little has been done for so long that we are not going to try to start by doing a comprehensive analysis of our entire product line.  Instead we are looking at our best sellers, and starting by fixing the prices of what we sell the most of.  And building a methodology which can be used next year for a more complete analysis.

What is also clear is that our dozens of hours of work will result in tens of thousands of dollars more income for Acorn and improved compensation for our growers at LEF and Twin Oaks.  It does not take an MBA to know that this is a good thing.

One day all these will be priced properly, until then well get the big ones right.

One day all these will be priced properly, until then we’ll get the big ones right.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

7 responses to “September is Seed Pricing”

  1. Scott Busby says :

    Sounds like you were just in time, Paxus – to bring your experience in the Hammocks business to help out the seed company at Acorn. I’m sorry you had to freak out!

  2. germanbini says :

    Good job! Let me know if I can help you with any research, I’m usually pretty good at that. 🙂

  3. North Star says :

    There are some egalitarian communities that have morphed into worker-owned coops or even transformed themselves into publicly traded corporations. Israeli kibbutzim come to mind, as do some NYC housing co-ops.

    Someone with business management skills might want to live in a community like those.

    I suppose it depends on what the goals of a community are. To enrich the lives of the founders? To grow and expand as egalitarian communities? Or to effect change in the broader society?

    Makes me wonder where Twin Oaks or Acorn will be 20 or 40 years from now. Twin Oaks has certainly changed a lot from its founding.

    • paxus says :

      So you are absolutely right, it depends on the communities goals. With the exception of some cults, the goal is rarely to amass financial wealth around the founders. All of the egalitarian communities (in my experience) want to expand the movement and when options come to them, they sometimes take them (as Acorn has done recently with the Baker Branch recent purchase). We hope to effect change in the world in general, but like marketing, we do not select so much for propagandists (current company obviously excluded). We have failed to find our story tellers and this is why the movement is still tiny after over 4 decades. And i am hopeful there will be 5 income sharing egalitarian communities in the area within 4 years.

      Twin Oaks is certainly different. When Harmony was built we were so poor the roof could not handle snow and they had to shovel every time it snowed. We dont do that any more. They used to share a single can of soda among several members. We dont do that any more. many people have personal laptops, when i arrived there was a raging fight about whether the accounting system should be computerized at all. We would not even consider such a conversation today.

      The original TO was much more pioneering, they put children in skinner boxes (only a couple, but still very daring). Now were are more a play it safe crowd, with millions in the bank we can seem to get it together to install more solar PV panels which actually have a strong return on investment. And we will get there, i am confident.

  4. Shua says :

    Pax, Did you mean “…with millions in the bank, [TO] can NOT get it together to install more solar PV panels which actually have a strong return on investment.” ?

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