Co-operative business, on a scale from 1 to 10

I was stopped the other day in my local Co-op Group store by a woman from a market research company undertaking research for the Co-op.

I was asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, a number of aspects of the store.  Fresh fruit and veg, for example.  What would you say?  I gave it 5 out of 10.  Well, let’s be honest, I don’t think the Co-op offers particularly good quality produce and although it’s a few years since we went through a whole Autumn without a single English apple on sale (and a few more years back since the co-op astonishingly ran completely out of potatoes one day) there is certainly no room for complacency.

The tidiness of the store? Again, not great. There seems a lack of managerial oversight which gives attention to important details like this.

Value for money? Expensive, compared with the larger supermarkets, although perhaps the fairer comparison is with small convenience stores.

I wasn’t asked about my experience of the self-service kiosks, so I wasn’t able to report the recent occasion when the machine gobbled up a £20 note of mine without appearing to notice it. But I was able to rate staff helpfulness very highly.

It’s good that the Co-op Group is trying to understand what its customers think of its store. My market researcher seemed surprised I had been quite so negative. Just trying to be helpful.

Finding ways forward

Phil Frampton from Co-operative Business Consultants rings.  He is making arrangements for the Ways Forward conference he and other CBC colleagues are organising in January in Manchester (Fri Jan 20th to be precise). We discuss possible ideas for workshops.

This is the fifth such event, and the first four have been valuable occasions which have brought together a good mixture of co-operative activists and practitioners. I’m sure this will be equally useful.

Phil ends our telephone conversation with a request – can I mention the event on my blog?  I just have…


Mondragon’s new PR video

Mondragon, the family of co-operatives which have developed from their Basque homelands into a worldwide set of businesses, have a new promotional video out.  But do you know what? I’m a little disappointed. The video could have been made by almost any multinational, looking to promote itself. There’s only tangential mention of co-operation or worker engagement (and is it my imagination or does the video seem to suggest that it’s a man’s world in Mondragon?). A slight sense of a lost opportunity.

New research reports on co-operatives

I wasn’t able to get to the international Co-op Summit in Québec this year, but I have been following what’s been happening over there over the past few days with interest. Usefully, the Summit organisers (the financial co-operative Desjardins) have commissioned a number of studies and reports which have been launched during the event.  One of these is the latest edition of the co-operative equivalent of the Fortune 500 list, the World Co-operative Monitor which is becoming a very valuable annual publication.

My eye has also been drawn to the research findings on public perceptions of co-ops and a study on the effect of the new financial regulatory regime on financial co-ops.  The studies are all helpfully together on one web site,

Unlevel playing fields (and other cliches)

I have complained before both here and in my journalistic writings of the disparity between the costs of running a business registered under the Companies Act and one registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act.

I’ve received this morning the invoice for the annual cost of keeping a community benefit society registered: it’s £60.  And the cost of completing the annual return for a similar sized company?  £13.

Saving the past, to learn for the future

You’ll know, if you are a regular visitor to my blog, of my involvement in a project which is aiming to ensure that primary material from the upsurge of interest in workers’ coops in Britain in the 1970s-1990s is saved and preserved.  I was at a meeting today in Manchester of the informal committee which is seeking to ensure that this initiative (what we calling Working Together: recording and preserving the heritage of the workers’ co-operative movement) gets the resources it needs to get going.

We worked up a detailed grant application for the project which was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund this summer, and we have now heard back from HLF.  They say that they had applications for three times the money they had available for distribution – and disappointingly we have been one of the unlucky ones.

However, all is definitely not lost.  HLF accept resubmissions, and we are now going to talk to them again about how we can strengthen our bid and maximise our chance of success.  We hope a revised application can be submitted before Christmas.  I’ll keep you posted.

The Co-operative Group and its employees

In an ideal world, co-operative businesses would be able to acquire the business products and services they needed from other co-operatives.

Sadly, the world is not ideal. The Co-operative Group obtains the “workforce management software solutions” it needs from US based private equity company Kronos, so that employees’ timekeeping, sickness and attendance records and much else are chewed through and processed by Kronos’s algorithms. Obviously the Co-op Group needs effective tools to handle its HR but I wonder whether a US giant which promotes itself as helping firms among other things ‘control labour costs’ and ‘improve workplace productivity’ is quite what’s needed to encourage staff to identify with the co-operative way of doing business. The Group is working hard to rebuild its membership. It also needs to ensure it has a committed workforce.