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Are Co-ops the golden ticket?

A look at how the co-op model is different from other businesses

When picking a topic for the first blog, we decided to dive right into co-operatives.

If you’re like many, you’ve wondered how co-operatives work and what differentiates them from other businesses. The best way I can explain what makes co-ops different is my own experience.

I can remember my first dip into the Co-op world when I opened a bank account at the local Credit Union – at 11 years old I gave $5 out of my life savings (a total of $20) to open the account. I just became a “member.”

Growing up, shopping at the local Co-op was a social experience. It was the heart of the community where people gathered to solve the world’s issues over breakfast.

I remember shopping at the Co-op when we visited my grandparents; it offered everything from groceries to clothing to furniture and even electronics. I knew then that Co-op was a different kind of business.

You may have had a similar experience with a Co-op. After all, the Canadian Co-operative Association says 18 million Canadians are co-operative or credit union members.

So what makes Co-ops work so well in today’s highly competitive and fast-changing market? What makes the Co-op model different? And is this different model a Golden Ticket for success?

I wouldn’t suggest the Co-op model is the Golden Ticket. Being the Golden Ticket entails maintaining the status quo, and that can be hazardous.

However, the Co-op model does offer key advantages that differentiate it from other businesses.

Community Focused and Local

One Co-op advantage is the ability to tailor offers to the communities where customers live – a way of playing with the big dogs, but never taking their eyes and hearts off of the communities they share.

Since Co-ops are owned by the communities they operate in, they understand their communities and can respond to member and customer needs.

Co-ops believe in giving back to the communities where they operate because these are their communities.

Take my earlier story as an example. My grandparents’ Co-op store was a community hub because it was a community-based business that responded to the local needs of its members.

Shared Benefits for Members

Sharing is another key advantage. Co-ops are owned by their members and profits are shared with members.

Co-ops don’t simply provide a product or service to their customers; they provide an investment in the communities where they live.

The success of a Co-op is directly tied to the success of the community in which it operates. If the community is thriving and supporting the Co-op, the Co-op in turn thrives and reinvests back into the community through local support, community investment, and profit sharing.

These advantages are helping Co-ops succeed. I work for the Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL),  a wholesaling, manufacturing and marketing co-op that is owned by 225 local co-op associations.

We offer customers everything from food and fuel to building and agriculture supplies.

The industry has been buzzing about the announcement that FCL, on behalf of the Co-operative Retailing system, purchased 14 Sobeys/ Safeway stores.

This move is allowing retail co-ops across Western Canada to expand membership and better meet the local needs of these communities.

The Co-op advantage paired with sustainable and strategic growth is what drives the success of this Co-operative, not a Golden Ticket.

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