What is a Co-op?

A cooperative is a business owned and managed by its members. The structure is to pool resources to satisfy a common need while providing goods and services as economically and efficiently as possible. As locally owned businesses, co-ops are committed to the people they serve and the communities in which they live.

Owners can have a voice in what is sold to them, as well as in the overall organization of their co-op. Owners get the most buying power for their money and the money stays in the community, contributing to its economic strength.

Co-ops are Everywhere

Roughly 30,000 consumer cooperatives exist in the United States, employing more than two million and bringing in $654 billion in revenue. Every day in America, the lives of as many as 100 million people are affected by cooperatives. The cooperative structure is flexible and endlessly adaptable. 

Co-ops sell bicycles, furniture, camping equipment, appliances, carpeting, clothing, crafts and books.  Cooperative wholesalers supply products to grocery, natural foods and hardware retail businesses.  There are cooperatively organized employee-owned companies, cooperative purchasing groups for fast food franchises, and various kinds of cooperative housing. Co-ops provide health care, such as health maintenance organizations and community health clinics and there are even cooperative funeral societies!  In the twenty-first century, co-ops provide almost every imaginable product and service a person could ever need, from cradle to grave.

Co-op History

To truly understand cooperatives, you need to go back in history just over 100 years to Rochdale, England. In 1844, 28 workers formed the first successful cooperative. They were weavers, shoemakers, cabinetmakers, tailors, printers, hatters and engineers who together called themselves the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society.

Cooperative societies existed before then, but the Pioneers were doing something different, something that touched a nerve. Although they could not have appreciated the significance, in retrospect, it is that clear their co-op profoundly changed the lives of millions of working people. From a tiny store stocked with healthy food staples -- flour, sugar, butter and oatmeal that the co-op's owners bought in quantity and sold to each other at low prices – they established the fundamental principles of modern cooperation that were eventually borrowed by 700 million people in nearly 100 countries.