Nanaimo Co-op Does Yeoman’s Work – Kenzie Love

Ten years into the sole proprietorship he had founded in Nanaimo, BC, in 2013 Ben Geselbracht was looking for a change. Geselbracht wanted to remain involved with the business without having to shoulder all the day-to-day responsibilities by himself. The worker co-op model beckoned, and armed with a technical assistance grant from CWCF to help with the conversion of the business and the support of a small group of employees, Yeomen Tree Service Co-operative was born. 

Shawn Bryant, one of Yeomen’s founding members, found the transition a logical move.

“What was attractive about the workers co-op model is that we understand it as trying to find the most efficient way to return as much of the profits of the business to the people who are actually doing the work,” he says. 

A more equitable approach to profit sharing, however, hasn’t been the only change. Bryant has also appreciated the shared approach to decision making that the worker co-op model demands, one of the things he finds most rewarding about his experience with Yeomen.

“Within this small group of people there is a commitment to working together,” he says. “And so  if somebody’s doing something that I don’t like or disagree about, or something, we have to have the space and the trust to talk about that and work it out. We have to actually have some kind of rapport and the skills and be able to make the space to talk about and sort out any of those things that come up. So far any of those kinds of questions have not been big serious questions. But still it’s rewarding for me. It’s been a rewarding experience to be in the space where I am navigating those things.”

One recent learning experience for Yeomen happened when the Co-op found itself in a slow period work-wise and a couple of its members took on some work with a different tree service company. Bryant says this decision prompted a worthwhile conversation among the Co-op’s members.

“That actually gave us a lot of things to talk about,” he says. “ ‘What are we doing here? What is the purpose of this business? What is the purpose of this structure?’ Whatever you get being paid from this sole proprietorship, you should be making that and more by running your own business, because if not it means we’re not charging enough, or not running things efficiently or in a lean and competitive manner. And so it was a really fruitful moment for everyone to understand something like the mechanisms of how small business works.”

Beyond the personal rewards from belonging to a worker co-op. Bryant also enjoys the chance its members have to share the worker co-op model with clients. As the only worker co-op within Nanaimo’s tree services sector, he believes Yeomen is in a unique position among its peers.

“We are the only workers co-operative and a lot of clients then get curious and ask questions,” he says. “And so I think we’re doing something that’s not so common, and is innovative, and it gets people thinking and talking. And I think that there’s value in that.”