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CASE STUDY The Inner East Artisans Cooperative

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The Inner-East Artisans Cooperative was formed in the early 1990s, when a small group of talented artists (including painters, potters, jewellers, and wide variety of other arts and crafts), began to sell their creative products at regular Sunday morning market stalls in Melbourne’s inner eastern suburbs. Over the years, the group has expanded considerably and now has approximately 65 members. In additions to selling their creative products at stalls, the cooperative also now has its own website. The website hosts information about the individual artists who are members of the Cooperative; details of upcoming events, such as exhibitions and presentations; and an online catalogue and ordering system, through which the public can order items online.

The Cooperative is a not-for-profit organisation, whose operations are performed mainly by volunteers. Members pay the Cooperative an annual membership fee of $350, plus a 20% commission on all sales that they make through the Cooperative (online sales, and sales at market stalls). These funds are used to pay for the website services, market stall overheads, event costs, and accounting services. Any leftover funds are contributed to the cost of running the Cooperative’s annual Christmas party, which takes place after the Cooperative holds its annual general meeting (AGM) in early December. Up until now, the current fees and commissions have been enough to support the activities of the Cooperative, but increased costs may require the Cooperative to increase these.

At their AGM, the Cooperative appoints a small group of members (typically three or four) to its Management Committee. The members of this committee are commonly referred to as the ‘managers’, and have the responsibility of managing the operations of the Cooperative for the next twelve months. Their role involves managing contributor memberships, and market stalls and other events. They deal directly with the website service provider, the accountant and financial services, market stall organisers, and event venue owners. Other members of the Cooperative (i.e., ‘non-managers’), with the help of family and friends, perform duties which include the setting up and packing down of stalls; taking cash and credit card payment at stalls; manually updating their online inventory after market stalls; and arranging the delivery for online orders that they have received.

Each member of the Cooperative has an account on the Cooperative’s website. These accounts are set up by the managers. When a new member joins, managers lodge a request with the web service provider for a new account to be set up. Once their account has been set up, members can access their accounts to perform a variety of tasks, which include maintaining their profile (where they can include a brief description of themselves, including awards and other acknowledgements that they have received); adding or removing products from the online catalogue and inventory system; and responding to online orders or queries. The online system notifies members via email when an order or query is received for one of that member’s products. If a member is unavailable, managers utilise their accounts to fulfil online orders and manually update the online inventory following market stall sales.

The website allows potential customers to view products in a number of ways. They can view products produced by individual artists. They can also view products by category (e.g., paintings, jewellery, pottery, clothing, etc.). The online store utilises the typical shopping cart and checkout model, and has facilities for payment via credit card or PayPal. When an online purchase is confirmed and payment details are validated, the inventory system is automatically updated and email notifications are sent to the appropriate artists and managers.

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