Not just another grocery store
From Richard Drace, Board President
I mumble to myself, as the presenter at co-op conference workshop I was attending addressed us as “co-operators “ every four or five sentences. To conclude, lyrics to a song, written by one of the presenters, were handed out and (almost) everyone sang along about how great we co-operators are. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m at a revival or a junior high school church camp. What next? Will we sing “Kum ba Yah?”
Now I’m into co-ops just as much as the others in the room, but gagging a bit on the cloying lyrics, I might have been overhead continuing to grumble, “So, what’s the big deal about co-ops anyway?”
With this being Co-op month, now is a good time to address my skeptical question.
For starters, there are ways in which we are like other large grocery stores. We are formally (don’t gasp) a corporation. Yes, you members are shareholders. Yes, we have the same mission as other corporations (don’t gasp): “To increase shareholder value.”
Now that I’ve dropped the “C-bomb” and I have your attention, how are we not like other corporate grocery stores?
A co-operative corporation is defined as owned by shareholders who each own one and only one share. And one and only one vote. So even if you were to invest one of your spare millions in BriarPatch (Oh, please do), you’d still have one and only one vote. This means all shareholders are equal. All activities of our corporation benefit our shareholders equally.
About that “shareholder value” thing: For the conventional corporation, shareholder benefit generally means maximizing financial gain. The chief priority tends to be maximizing financial gain for major stockholders. Priorities that would maximize public benefit too often play second fiddle (or maybe not even make it into the orchestra).
Co-ops also seek to “maximize shareholder value,” but – and here’s the big, big difference – we define those values very, very differently: They’re our Co-op Principles, which originated with the first co-op and have barely changed in over 100 years. You’ll see them printed below. Co-ops define their “shareholder benefit” as fulfilling those principles. We get a bit more specific here at BriarPatch by refining those principles into six Ends Policies, also printed below.
Yes, we are a corporation that is mission driven to maximize shareholder benefit. This, in sum, is how we are like other grocery stores and how we are very, very different.
Our directive, as your board of directors, is to make sure that our store is run in such a manner that we fulfill these Ends Policies. Chris our general manager presents a FYI report to us each month how BriarPatch furthered each of our Ends Policies: How were we a leader among local businesses? How did we contribute to environmental stewardship? Did we expand access to healthy products? Did folks experience a sense of connectedness here? Did we make the local food system even better? Is ours a healthy, fair, and considerate workplace? Did you all learn more about food and consumer issues?
I may not join in on the next co-op sing-along, but I guess after all I will accept the moniker: “Hello, my name is Richard, and, yes, I am a co-operator.”