The Rapidian

Brewery takes on grassroots cooperative business model

Board members Nick Lavelle and Joshua Smith of the High Five Co-op Brewery explain the idea of the co-op and exciting new things on the horizon.

Upcoming Events

Sixer Mixer and Kickstarter Launch Party

August 24, Riverside Park 

2 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

High Five sixer mixer

High Five sixer mixer /Courtesy of High Five Brewery

Members at a sixer mixer at The Factory

Members at a sixer mixer at The Factory /Courtesy of High Five Brewery

Three years ago, a group of homebrewers and beer enthusiasts came together to accomplish a common goal: to open a brewery. With the explosion in popularity of craft brewing, High Five Co-Op Brewery stands apart from the crowd by boasting the title of the first co-op brewery in Michigan.

“A co-op is really the socially responsible version of a corporation. [There’s examples of] public ownership in America in stocks and bonds. In a co-op, everybody buys into this as an owner of the business," says Lavelle, vice president of the co-op. 

Co-ops function mainly one of two ways, according to Lavelle. A business owner or group of owners with capital ready to invest start a business, then eventually sell that business back to their workers, so workers each have a stake. Alternatively, a co-op can start with paid members pooling their resources to start a business. Lavelle refers to this as a "grassroots" co-op, and it’s the model High Five has chosen.

“It’s kind of like a club in a sense, but in more a business structure. It’s equally owned by its members and everyone contributes equally. That’s the general idea,” says Joshua Smith, a member of the board of directors.

The business model High Five chose for their co-op has special benefits for members included in a paid membership. While those exact details are still being worked out, Lavelle and Smith are hopeful that they will have a brick and mortar location for their brewery in the next year or two.

In the meantime, High Five has been doing some promoting and becoming part of the brewing community in and around Grand Rapids. They have done collaboration brews with other local breweries to help get the word out about the co-op to potential members. They also throw parties called “sixer mixers.”  The idea is to bring a six pack of beer, home brewed or not, to share with other attendees.

“We’re kicking into fundraising mode so we can have our own brick and mortar spot to open up and brew our own beer,” Smith says.

Sixer mixers are one way for them to raise money and to recruit new members along the way. They are free to attend and open to the public.

Members of the co-op are equal owners of the business and each of them gets a vote in the company.

“The co-op is a democracy. If a member doesn’t like what’s going on with the business, they can change it,” Lavelle says. Majority rule is a big part of the co-op principles.

Memberships are $150 and at this point in time, it’s a one-time fee. If the board wants to change that in the future, Lavelle says, they’re welcome to put it to a vote.

The co-op is also starting a Kickstarter fundraiser lasting for 45 days. They hope to raise $15,000 to help with co-op expenses. They’re also currently looking for investors to help with costs incurred while the organization establishes itself.

“The co-op is just a responsible business making great beer," Lavelle says. 

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