How to shop cooperatively this holiday season

November 17, 2015

KENT, Wash. (11/17/15)--It’s a trend that’s been going on for years. In an attempt to wring more profit from the biggest shopping day of the year, so many retailers start Black Friday on Thanksgiving that it’s become almost commonplace.

Many people view these early store hours as eroding family time and corrupting the meaning of Thanksgiving. The backlash has included consumer campaigns and boycotts against companies perpetuating this trend, and some companies, like Staples, are reversing course and staying closed on Thanksgiving.

Cooperatively owned REI also is bucking the trend by staying closed on Thanksgiving Day. While employees at major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Target will be reporting to work early on Thanksgiving to prepare for door-busting deals, REI employees not only have the holiday off but also will get a paid holiday on Black Friday (Time Nov. 10).

While Black Friday, in the past, has been a big part of the company’s bottom line, REI can afford to close that day because it’s a cooperative, which means instead of answering to shareholders, the company serves its member-owners. For $20, REI customers own a stake in the company and receive perks such as an annual dividend check based on a percentage of much they spent at the store--typically about 10%.

“As a member-owned co-op, our definition of success goes beyond money,” REI’s CEO Jerry Stritzke said in a press release. “We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles.”

The Washington Post called the move “savvy marketing, a generous employee benefit, and an external display of the brand’s principles all rolled into one.” The same day that REI announced it would be closed on Black Friday, it unveiled a new company logo that includes the word “co-op” in it for the first time since 1983.

In a Bloomberg article, Mike Beall, former CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association, said the cooperative business model was resonating with young entrepreneurs.

“Everyone is coming back to this farmers-market idea,” Beall said. “It doesn’t maximize profits in a way that puts off consumers.” But while REI is one of the nation’s biggest and most recognizable cooperatives, there are many others.

If you want to support a different way of doing business this holiday season, here are some ways to patronize cooperatives:

  • Join a credit union. Credit unions offer the same services as banks, but because they’re financial cooperatives, they’re not-for-profit and can offer members lower rates and fewer fees. They also strive to educate and empower their members to become financially capable;
  • Search for cooperatives in your community. A simple Google search of “cooperative” or “co-op” should turn up nearby examples--grocers, coffee shops, breweries and bakeries are common candidates for a cooperative business model; and
  • Look to other name brands. Land O’Lakes, Ace Hardware, ShopRite, Organic Valley and Ocean Spray are all cooperatives.

To learn more about cooperatives, you can view the seven cooperative principles here. For related information, read “Why Credit Unions Really, Truly Are Different” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

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