Smart Solutions

Regional Sustainability Shop

The creation of a physical space for selling a range of locally produced sustainable goods and for enhancing consumer education around sustainable living.

Implemented inAltenkirchen

Country : Germany

What’s the solution?

The regional sustainability shop promotes a sustainable local economy through a dual approach, namely by matching supply and demand for sustainable local goods and services as well as by raising awareness of sustainable living on the part of local consumers.

Local suppliers from surrounding villages can rent - at a low price - shelf space in the shop for presenting and selling their goods. The products range from food to clothing to art and other artisanal products offered by local producers. The proceeds from the sales are passed on 100% to the local producers.

The shop is operated by volunteers which keep costs down and enables revenue from sales to be passed directly to the local producers. The voluntary operation of the regional store is also linked to a programme of events to reach local consumers.

This combination is intended to stimulate local economic cycles and sustainable consumption on both the supply and demand sides. As a central place for the sale of local products and the organisation of events, the regional store takes on the role of a hub for local production and consumption in a rural region.

What makes it smart?

  • The solution is economically smart because it promotes the development of local economic cycles by addressing both the supply side, i.e. local producers, and the demand side, i.e. local consumers, with different measures (sales of goods, educational programme).
  • The solution is ecologically smart because by shortening transport routes by promoting local supply chains and consumption styles, it contributes to reducing emissions.
  • The solution is socially smart because it encourages volunteering, social interaction, and a sharing economy at the local level.
  • The solution is digitally smart, as it utilises digital tools such as an internet presence and a successively adapted electronic merchandise management system in a pragmatic way to achieve its goals.

How is the solution implemented?

  • Gather a group of volunteers who share the belief that local supply chains can make an important contribution to a sustainable economy and way of life, and who are willing to volunteer their free time to support this idea.
  • Carefully analyse the local conditions with regard to the possible supply of and demand for local products and services (e.g. type and quantity of local products and services available and type and extent of the possible local demand)
  • Develop an organisational and financial concept for operating a regional store in which local products and services are to be offered, thereby considering requirements on long-term operation.
  • Think about whether and how you can work together with other initiatives, networks and/or public administration to achieve your goals.
  • Set up a legal entity that enables non-commercial operation of a regional store in accordance with applicable law (e.g. with regard to tax law), e.g. a voluntary association or a cooperative. If necessary, seek expert advice.
  • Rent suitable premises and procure the necessary equipment.
  • Think about how volunteer supporters can be won and persuaded to make a long-term commitment.
  • Consider how the local store and activities to be organised around the store can be most effectively promoted to the targeted audiences.

In what local context has it been applied?

As a rural town with approximately 6000 inhabitants, Altenkirchen is located in the north-west of the Westerwald low mountain range in northern Rhineland-Palatinate. Situated between the Rhine-Westerwald Nature Park and the Bergisches Land Nature Park, tourism is an important economic factor in the region alongside manufacturing industry.

The rural area is also characterised by many small local producers who are scattered between different villages across the region. These producers are typically not visible to citizens and consumers in the region and struggle to access significant markets.

In order to promote sustainable development in the region, a group of committed citizens identified different goals back in 2013 that they wanted to tackle together:

  • To create a central place for regionally produced agricultural, handicraft and artistic products, as providers live and work scattered across the many small villages throughout the area.
  • Promote the development of the rural area and initiate new products and forms of production.
  • Increase supply and demand for local products.
  • Raise awareness about locality and sustainability among the population (e.g. information events… ) and disseminate the importance of local economic cycles.
  • Increase trust in local products by strengthening networking and contacts between producers, consumers and local initiatives.
  • Strengthen citizens' identification with the region and appreciation for local goods by providing information on what is locally available and how products are made (e.g. craft demonstrations by suppliers).
  • To offer guests a showcase for the region and a contact point for tourist and cultural information.

Who was behind the implementation?

The solution emerged from the engagement of a small group of committed citizens.

They formed a new non-profit Association for the Promotion of Sustainable Regional Economy e.V ("Förderverein für nachhaltiges regionales Wirtschaften e.V."), which now runs the local store and the related programme of events.

What was the local journey?

  • In 2013, a group of committed citizens had the idea of opening a store where producers from the surrounding villages could display and sell their products or offer their services.
  • To do this, they founded a new non-profit association which people can pay to join. The association has an honorary board which takes on many organisational tasks on a voluntary basis, including event planning, press relations, website management, cash accounting and further development of the general concept.
  • Legal recognition of the non-profit status of the association was a significant challenge because the competent district court assumed that the activities were an economic activity. It took a year-long dispute to resolve this on the legal basis that it is the local producers themselves who pay tax on the profit they make through the local store - the association itself does not generate a commercial profit.
  • A suitable store space with a sales area was found and rented to create the regional sustainability shop known as the "Regionalladen UNIKUM". Shop furniture including shelves was purchased to equip the shop.
  • A merchandise management system was purchased for processing sales and invoicing. This had to be gradually adapted and developed by a programmer to meet the shop’s requirements. The system allows each item delivered by a supplier to be recorded and photographed, whereupon a corresponding label is printed out and assigned to the item on the shelf.
  • Many of the set-up costs were pre-financed privately as loans to the association. Meanwhile the association started generating income through membership fees, donations and renting shelf space to local producers. The cost of each shelf is graded between 15 and 30 € per month according to its size and location within the shop. Membership in the association is not a prerequisite for renting a shelf. The typical rental period is three months which can be extended on a rolling basis.
  • The municipality is also a member of the non-profit association and has made an important contribution to the success of the shop. From the very beginning, the municipality has promoted the local store as a voluntary citizens' project – for example on its website. It has also supported the concept and contributed financially by renting a large shelf with tourist information and voluntarily paying a higher rental fee. Many events such as the annual May Market are coordinated with the municipality.
  • The range of products sold in the store is deliberately broad in order to offer as many suppliers as possible from the small villages around Altenkirchen the opportunity to present themselves through the sales outlet.
  • Only with volunteer support is it possible to maintain the daily opening hours – at least two volunteer storekeepers are typically present during opening hours. To organise the team of volunteers successfully, two part-time employed positions were created. As a thank you to the volunteers, they are invited several times a year to joint activities and get-together events.
  • The way the shop operates is that cCustomers take an item to the checkout where it is scanned and automatically accounted for. As soon as an item is sold, the system automatically sends an email to the supplier so that they can manage any subsequent delivery as required.
  • All orders are transferred to a software programme and monthly statements made for the shelf tenants. In addition, balance sheets are prepared and cooperation with the tax office is necessary. The volunteer treasurer has developed into an accounting expert, but the association also collaborates with a tax consultant who keeps an eye on the legal side. Without an exceptionally high level of voluntary commitment, the overall concept would probably not be feasible.
  • Shelf tenants also have the opportunity to offer a demonstration for interested customers on Saturdays during store opening hours. This can involve handicraft production of goods, tasting of food, presentation of self-written books etc. The aim is to increase consumers' appreciation of regionally produced goods. The association advertises such ‘producer events’ on its own website and informs the press.
  • Since its founding, the association has fulfilled its educational aspirations with a programme of events promoting a more sustainable way of life. This has included: excursions to regional producers (‘UNIKUM on tour’); information events on various topics – from climate change to solidarity farming - in cooperation with regional partners; practical workshops (e.g. on gardening or fermenting sauerkraut); and readings and art exhibitions by local creatives. The association also participates in external events, such as regional markets in neighbouring communities.
  • The store concept was expanded in 2015 to include a so called ‘gardening network’. Every Friday afternoon from 2-6 p.m. during the gardening season, local people can sell or exchange their food and plants in front of the regional store without having to rent a shelf space. People who can no longer maintain their garden plots can also offer them to others to use or co-use.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • The store for local goods has been running successfully for seven years and has been well received by both local producers and consumers. Currently 120 local producers use this offer.
  • Through mixed financing of the running costs, 100% of the income from the sale of goods can be passed on to the local producers.
  • Today, the range of products for sale includes handmade quality products, special gift articles, everyday foodstuffs, culinary delicacies, paintings, sculptures, handicrafts, and services with a regional connection.
  • The store’s average turnover is 500-1000€ per day.
  • The number of volunteers who share the store duties during the week now totals 35 supporters. In addition, two employees have been taken on as part-time workers in order to oversee the team of volunteers and ensure the continuous operation of the store.
  • The solution has also increased awareness and understanding of more sustainable forms of life through its various events and activities.
  • Through its online presence, the initiative also addresses potential visitors from all over the country who are interested in sustainable living.
  • As part of the federal competition "Land und Leute" (Country and People) of the Wüstenrot Foundation, the regional store received a special award in 2015 for the successful implementation of the overall concept developed by committed citizens from Attenkirchen and the surrounding villages.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • The economic situation of local producers is strengthened through the direct marketing of their products in the local store, creating new opportunities for local growth and job creation.
  • The development of new local economic cycles is also promoted through the networking of local cooperation partners creating additional opportunities.
  • The importance of the local economy is increasingly recognised by the population. More and more consumers are switching to regional products, reducing the ecological footprint of long transport routes related to products imported into the region.
  • Social resilience and more sustainable ways of life are also strengthened through the promotion of a local barter economy and voluntary engagement.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:
Financial needs:

Set up / Investment costs: 7,000 EUR

The main set-up costs is the acquisition and further development of the merchandise management system.

Additional costs include:

• Acquisition of store equipment

• Website

Ongoing running costs are about 2,000 EUR per month covering:

• Two part-time staff positions

• Monthly rental of the premises

• Store operating costs

• Website maintenance

These costs are covered by shelf rental income and association membership fees.

Funding received:
Non-profit association (Förderverein für nachhaltiges und regionales Wirtschaften e.V.) using a combination of shelf-rental income, membership fees and donations7,000 €All acquisition and set-up costs.

Human resources

• The association's board of directors takes on many organisational tasks on a voluntary basis – including event planning, press relations and cash accounting.

• The board has also needed to call on expert support including tax accountants, programmers and web developers.

• The number of volunteers who share the store duties during the week now totals 35 supporters. They make it possible to open the store continuously during normal store hours.

• Two part-time employed positions were created to manage and coordinate the team of volunteers.

Physical resources

• Suitable premises that can be used as a store and event venue form the core of the required infrastructure. Approx. 100 sqm are available for this purpose.

• Without an electronic merchandise management system, the store concept would not be feasible in its current form.

What to do…

  • Try to bring together the broadest possible alliance of local stakeholders to put your idea into practice.
  • When developing an operator concept for a local product hub, take the time to assess the prevailing local conditions as comprehensively as possible, e.g. in terms of supply and demand.
  • After setting up a local product hub, always remain open minded to possible adjustments and further developing the original concept.

and not to do

  • Don't underestimate the amount of volunteer work required to keep a non-commercially operated local store alive.
  • Do not overestimate the capacities that volunteer supporters can bring to the table in the long run and be prepared to involve professional expertise and/or employees in an appropriate form.

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