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how co-ops work

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Co-ops have a democratic structure

Co-ops are democratically controlled using a system of “one member one vote”. Co-op members can participate in the democratic process by:

  • attending the Annual General Meeting
  • voting for the Board of Directors
  • running for a position on the Board
  • proposing or voting on resolutions
  • offering suggestions to the Board and management

Anyone can join a co-op

Everyone can shop at a retail co-op, whether they are members or not. For a small one-time cost (usually $10), a person or family can join a retail co-op. There is no annual membership fee. Members own a share of a business in the community. Members are assigned a co-op number that they will use each time they shop. Each co-op is locally owned and controlled, so this number is not transferrable from one co-op to another. However, one person can join more than one co-op.

Co-ops return their earnings to their members

The Co-operative Retailing System uses the term “net savings” instead of “profit”. This is because the “profit” is money that members save by owning and using their own business. Combined retail co-op net savings were $467.5 million in 2015. 

When a retail co-op achieves a net savings during the year, members get part of it back through a patronage refund. The refund is based on the amount they purchased from the co-op. This refund is credited to the member’s shares (usually called equity) in the co-op. The equity is used by the co-op to help finance the business, and maintain and upgrade assets to ensure ongoing success.

When the co-op is able to, it pays out a portion of each member’s equity in cash. In 2015, retail co-ops repaid more than $281 million of equity in cash to their local members. More than $2.3 billion in cash has been repaid in the last ten years.

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