Local co-operative set for ambitious growth

Amidst tough trading and economic conditions for many, a local business is aiming to grow by taking its innovative low-cost motoring model to a wider audience through a share-offer. Exeter-based car club operator, Co-cars, are moving from a largely voluntary business model to a more commercially savvy, social enterprise nature and conducting a share issue to fund growth.

Co-cars are a small firm with big ambitions and about to take their first steps into a period of high growth.  The co-operative has been operating for over 6 years, running car club services in Exeter, Topsham and recently in Taunton.  The social enterprise was set up with the community at its roots and was primarily run by volunteers.  However its success has meant it’s had to go through the usual growing pains, in particular the difficult move from being voluntary run to having paid members of staff. “The Directors saw it was getting more and more difficult to run an operation of over 150 members just through volunteer time,” says Operations Director, Alastair Mumford. “The choice was to stagnate, have a trickle of new members and not get anymore cars or take the riskier option of grabbing the bull by its horns and making the company fully financially sustainable.  We chose the latter!”

Periods of rapid growth always need the support of others and Co-cars have been working with The Fruit Tree for Business to make sure their financial management and business plans are in order.  “It’s been great working with Lorna and Debbie,” says Alastair. “Getting their knowledge has been a major asset and really helped us to have the confidence to go forward.” The advice and support comes from a scheme funded by Exeter City Council to support the start up and growth of social enterprise and creation of local jobs. The Fruit Tree for Business delivers the scheme providing free support, advice and mentoring to develop social enterprises within the City.

Cllr Rosie Denham, Portfolio Holder for Economy and Tourism, Exeter City Council said, “We are delighted. Social enterprises play an important part in the local economy, giving people opportunities to find paid work and creating much needed jobs. Importantly Co-cars helps local people keep their costs down when they need access to private transport. “

Co-cars provide members with pay-as-you-go-motoring, convenient access to car when you want it without the 24/7, 365 days of the year cost of ownership.  Using a car for less than 10,000 miles a year means the economics might not stack up and car clubs can help cut costs.  Car clubs are very popular in much of Europe, America and Canada.  In this country they are mainly in large urban areas but that doesn’t mean there not also appropriate for small urban or rural locations.  “As long as there’s a level of good population density then a car club can work,” says Alastair.  “We all know costs are increasing and having a second car or even one car could come under question by many families and individuals.  But living without a car is difficult and that’s were the car club comes in”.  Car clubs also have a number of broader sustainable benefits with independent research showing they increase low carbon forms of transport (walking, public transport, etc), decrease car usage helping alleviate congestion and increase use of local businesses.

Co-cars have now secured funding to set up car clubs in certain rural locations in East Devon.  The organisation is using this as the impetus to secure further financial funding through a share issue.  “We hope that by moving to a business format where we can issue shares this will not only mean we can raise money from social investors but also from new communities who want a car club.  By combining these investment sources we will hopefully be able to able to rapidly increase the number of car clubs in Devon.” The share issue will combine with a major re-branding to better reflect Co-cars new social enterprise business attitude.

 

Notes to editors:

For more information, interviews or more images relating to Co-cars please contact Alastair Mumford on 07852 913703 or alastair@co-cars.co.uk

 

The Exeter Social Enterprise Support Scheme, funded by the City Council is open to any individual, organisation, business or charity that:

●        Is based in or relocating within the city of Exeter

●        Is already working for or wants to create positive social or environmental change in your local community

●        Is already trading or wants to start trading products and/or services

●        Wants to reinvest profits to benefit communities

 

The Fruit Tree for Business is a partnership between Lorna Turner and Debbie Stewart who deliver The Exeter

Social Enterprise Support Scheme .The scheme provides one to one business advice sessions and workshops to encourage start-up, development & growth of existing social enterprises in Exeter. If you would like to find out more, please contact Lorna Turner: Mobile: 07773 147758 Email: lorna@the-fruit-tree.co.uk

Support for social enterprises forms part of the City Council’s assistance for local businesses. Exeter Business Support is another example of free business advice and support which it funds to help local people start up small commercial businesses in the city. Exeter Business Support also provides free support to existing small businesses based in the city. For further information, contact the Exeter Business Support Business Advisor, Phil Deem on 0775 2222 676, or on email phil.deem@exeterbusinesssupport.co.uk