Co-op Sectors

Retail Co-ops

Retail Co-ops

Cooperative enterprise has revolutionized how companies do business in their communities. Retailer cooperatives focus on the needs of their members — either independent business owners (retailer-owned) or the store’s customers (consumer-owned).

Customers or individual business owners come together in a retail co-op to meet common goals. They focus on how their business can benefit the most people, not turn the most profit. As a result, they serve the needs of their local, regional and even national communities through quality products and customer service.


Retail co-ops put the interests of their members and communities first. Below are a few facts about retailer cooperatives:

  • In 1844, the first retailer co-op was founded in England as a new approach to supplying food.
  • About 50,000 independent business owners are members of retail co-ops.
  • With 18 million lifelong members, REI is the largest customer-owned retail co-op in the U.S.
  • Examples of retail co-ops are REI, Ace Hardware, Carpet One and NAPA Auto Parts.


Modern retailer co-ops trace their histories back to the original English shop established in 1844 during the European Industrial Revolution. The decade was challenging for many due to famine and economic hardship. Wealthier shop owners took advantage of the circumstances to sell lower-quality or diluted goods to the poor.

A group of working-class artisans and weavers known as the Rochdale Pioneers established a small shop to take back control over food purity, supply and prices. This organization operated with democracy and transparency, creating the cooperative principles that organized groups follow today.

Word of the Pioneers’ success and their operating values soon spread throughout Europe and North America. These organizations became vital components of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which promoted co-ops for thriftiness. As a result, cooperative business models originated in numerous economic sectors and led to contemporary global co-ops.


Retail co-ops empower consumers to take ownership of their shopping experience and contribute to a brand with a people-focused mission. For example, REI has millions of members that benefit from its profits through annual dividends and rewards.

Retail cooperatives also make people stronger through ownership, agency and a mutually supportive economic model. By pooling resources, small store owners can negotiate more favorable prices. Retailers can pass their savings on to their customers and more effectively compete with larger outlets. Residents in the surrounding communities benefit from:

  • Increased competition with overall lower prices.
  • Enhanced product variety and higher-quality goods.
  • A more robust local economy with additional job opportunities.

Co-op Associations in the Retail Sector

These global organizations advocate for the millions of cooperative enterprises around the world:

NCBA CLUSA Stands With Cooperatives

In a retailer cooperative, people are more important than the bottom line. As a result, retail co-ops offer a competitive alternative in a shifting retail market.

At NCBA CLUSA, we work to strengthen co-ops and catalyze lasting economic growth in communities. For more than a century, our members and partners have helped us improve the lives of individuals and families through the cooperative business model.

We invite you to become a member of NCBA CLUSA and contribute to our goals in advocacy and education.

For more information, feel free to contact us online.

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