Unmanning the trenches

Year Published:  1983  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX2796

Abstract:  In this article, the author argues that one of the major dangers facing especially the more successful sectors of the co-operative movement is "entrenchment". Entrenchment, he feels, takes the form of "blind adherence to old ideas, and the fear of trying new ones."
He sees it as being particularly evident in the retail sector of the co-operative field in Canada, and most notably among the large co-op supermarkets.He points out co-op supermarkets have a "miserable share" of the market and show little initiative in trying to improve their position,despite experience in a few centres such as Calgary and Nanaimo, where co-ops have a market share of nearly 50 per cent.
A number of reasons are cited as being responsible: a failure to extract contractual financial commitments from members,and a willingness to do business with non-members on the same basis as members;a fixation with selling product at going market prices rather than agressive discounting; and a "slave-like determination to be exactly like our competitors".
The author cities the experience of Nanimo's Hub Co-op to illustrate how a co-op can operate on a different basis, and become more successful than "normal" co-ops. The Nanaimo co-operative is for members only, and requires members to pay their share of the operating costs over and above the price they pay for the product, and also provides for member participation in capital formation through interest-bearing certificates. The co-op's location is not terribly convenient, and the premises are "bare-bones" in appearance. All these factors are contrary to accepted "entrenched" co-operative procedures, and yet the co-op is remarkably successful, with a waiting list of people wishing to join.
The author concludes with a plea that the cooperative movement open itself to new ideas and that it seek to expand rather than dig itself deeper into its trenches.
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