October Is Co-op Month - So, What’s The Big Deal?
Growing up in Bozeman, I always wondered what it meant to be a member of the co-op. Was this some sort of exclusive club and why did I have to pay to shop?
Semi-skeptically I purchased my $35 membership (a one-time share purchase), and got my membership card. Fireworks didn’t illuminate the sky, staff didn’t erupt in song and there were no shiny prizes, but I did notice a pretty sweet Member Special on chocolate.
At that point, I decided to hit up the wine section, again looking for those Member Specials. They were all over the store, glorious little markers of superb savings just for me…and the other 18,000-plus members of our co-op.
Still, I decided that membership was starting to feel pretty good.
The more I shopped here, the more I realized how different the cooperative business model really was. I had always figured it operated the same way as any other business: with one all knowing and dictating owner, some dutiful employees and unquestioning customers.
It could not have been any different. I learned our co-op is equally owned and operated by all of its members, an economic democracy of sorts. I was literally voting with my fork, or spoon for that matter. And eating was fun, so I could rejoice in this cause.
Since my days of operating lemonade stands and posting huge profit margins on my products (hey, I didn’t care about ripping off my customers), I had never considered business ownership as part of my future plans.
Now, as a part-owner, I had an equal say in the co-op’s operations and future, and that felt good. No one was forcing me to participate, but when I had a problem or suggestion, someone here might actually listen to me.
I had a choice about what I was purchasing and as a consumer, this was empowering.
The more I started to hang-out here, the more I realized that the staff and customers were also unique: this was a dynamic and diverse group of folks that had thoughts, opinions and ideas about the food they wanted to eat and the type of business they wanted to support. There was a conversation happening, and I liked it.
Still, when I didn’t feel like engaging in that conversation, or the greater good, I knew I could show up and find quality food that actually tasted good at a fair price. And, chances were, there would always be some tasty chocolates and wines on Member Special.
In honor of all of these wonderful things that differentiate the cooperative business model, October has been declared National Co-op Month. It gives nods to the more than 29,000 co-ops across the country, from natural food stores, to banks, manufacturers and everything in between. Local, trusted and serving you. What’s not to like?