What a Co-op is NOT—a buying club!
I’ve been an employee of the Hanover Co-op for more than 20 years, working behind the scenes as a copywriter, and this is one of the most exciting times I’ve seen in my tenure. The place is brimming with new ideas, new people, new technology, and a new spirit. This is why we hope you’re seeing our new ad campaign in magazines and on buses throughout the Upper Valley, reminding you of our existence and encouraging you to learn more about us.
Misconceptions about cooperatives abound, so we always relish the opportunity to reintroduce ourselves. And when the topic comes up, it always reminds me of a favorite personal story.
I was in a little Upper Valley shop, one situated in a teeming hub of plazas, convenience stores, and fast food joints not far from the interstate. The store is part of a large chain, with hundreds like it in more than 30 states. It’s obvious why it’s popular. It’s a fun place, with a great vibe. The atmosphere gives off the air of a sort of multimedia, pop-culture boutique.
On this particular day, I took my daughter there to look at plush toy cats, an item that ranks in the upper echelons of her favorite things. Not far from where we were poking around, a woman was checking out. She was a kind, candid woman, with a small purchase. The cashier, a cheerful man with a pleasant, how-may-I-help-you voice, smiled and greeted her, then asked if she was a member of the store’s loyalty program. She told him no and said that she wasn’t interested in that sort of thing. Then he asked if she was a member of the Hanover Co-op.
When she said that she was, he insisted that a membership at this store was the exact same thing. The two went back and forth, she held her ground, and the woman left. The cashier continued to emphasize his point as the customer walked out the door.
To be clear, a co-op and a chain store are two very different things. Our co-op has been around a long time, and our goal these days is to stick to our roots as a legendary old business while still building something new.
We just launched our own all-new reimagined rewards program for our members, which seemed like a good opportunity to point out that membership in a co-op and the rewards that come with it is nothing like the ubiquitous loyalty programs offered by chain stores. To understand the gulf between the two is to understand the difference between cooperatives and corporations.
The Upper Valley is full of co-ops and credit unions. (A credit union is a cooperatively owned bank.) Thousands of people in our area are members of a cooperative business.
A co-op is a democratically run business owned by the people who use its services. Members are owners. Join once and you’re a member for life—for as long as you own your shares. These member-owners vote in board elections and have a say in how the business is run. Often they get invitations to special events, discounts on products, and sweet member benefits and perks, such as our member rewards program.
The point is that the goal of the cooperative business is to serve its member/owners rather than to maximize profit. This is why, more often than not, co-ops are locally owned.
A corporation is typically owned by a single individual or family or a small group of investors. Rarely is the business locally owned. The entity has one goal: to maximize profits for one person or a small group of people.
There is nothing wrong with this, of course. I shop at chain stores, too. But they aren’t co-ops. Their loyalty programs and other profit-driven incentives are nothing like the community benefit generated by people coming together to own a cooperative. Our co-op is owned by thousands of people, most of them here in the Upper Valley. The chain store I visited is owned by one very wealthy man and his family more than 1,200 miles away.
My little girl and I left the store without buying anything. I wasn’t miffed at the cashier—they just didn’t have what my daughter was looking for that day. All stuffed, rotund, plush gray cats with cute, blank expressions look about the same to me, but she’s very particular about this sort of thing.
It was a mild day and the sun was shining. It was a great day to buzz around the Upper Valley, giving thanks for all the things that make it so special. My daughter wanted to go for a little drive, so we took the back way home. We passed two co-ops and a credit union along the way.
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