A few years ago, an interesting shift took place at REI, the Kent, Washington-based outdoor apparel and gear retailer with stores across the country. What happened? Our friends at REI went back to their member-owned roots. And in the process, the company embraced its sense of cooperative identity.
REI is the nation’s largest consumer-owned retail co-op, with 154 stores in 36 states and more than five million active members. REI is a successful co-op by any measure, with annual revenues averaging more than $2 billion.
Many people don’t know that REI is a co-op. This is because for many years, the company downplayed it, either by design or simply by oversight. Then a few years ago, REI began highlighting its cooperative message. Today, the word “co-op” is a key component of REI’s brand and market position. And as our in-house copywriter likes to remind us all around here, a word is a powerful thing.
Over the years, our own co-op has used various words to define us, specifically those that make up our mercurial name. Some call us the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society, Inc. Others call us the Hanover Co-op. Others call us the Co-op Food Stores. Others simply call us the Co-op. Some members think the variety fits our culture and is an important part of our unique tradition. Shakespeare might put it another way. “What’s in a name?” he wrote. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
This is obvious, of course. A rose is a rose because we call it a rose. If we called a rose by another name, it wouldn’t change what it really is.
To me, the takeaway is this: What defines us is not what our name is, but what we stand for. Our co-op is driven by a firm belief in socioeconomic equality, a just food system, the cooperative values and principles, and a well-nourished community cultivated through cooperation.
There are pros and cons to any new brand or name. It is always interesting to contemplate where a discussion might take us some day. In the meantime, no matter what we may be called, we can be proud of who we are. Like REI, we’re also one of the most successful co-ops in the country. And like REI, we owe our success to the members and employees who make it all possible.
Have thoughts about this? Reach out to me anytime. My door is always open.