Other Cooperatives

A variety of other types of co-ops serve the needs of their members; in each type the members elect a board of directors to make decisions. While the members of a business or "shared services" cooperative are small businesses or entitiies that join together to gain market power or reduce operating costs, consumers comprise the membership of insurance, retail, and student cooperatives.

Business cooperatives are formed by smaller, independent enterprises to reduce costs and gain market advantages through joint purchasing and marketing of supplies or services. They vary widely both in size and type.

Members are often individual business proprietors such as hardware store owners or realtors. Members could also be taxicab owners who join together to share dispatch services, or plant nursery owners may purchase supplies cooperatively to take advantage of bulk discounts. Sometimes these cooperatives are referred to as "shared services" cooperatives. Public entities may form this type of cooperative--for example school boards may form a cooperative to efficiently buy books and school uniforms.

Insurance cooperatives provide insurance services to their members, who are consumer policyholders. Insurance cooperatives operate by pooling and investing the premiums paid by the members. The revenues generated are then used to reduce the costs of providing insurance. Because policyholders are also owners, any profits are returned to the consumers as dividends. Insurance cooperatives are able to provide lower insurance rates and greater control for members.

Retail cooperatives sell goods to consumer members and non-members. The purpose of the retail business is to serve members and members enjoy discounts, patronage refunds, or both. Patronage refunds are the manner in which member-owners share in the earnings of the cooperative. In every cooperative the term "patronage" is used because member-based "profits" are returned using a formula based on the members use of the cooperative (in a retail co-op "use" would be the purchases over a specific period of time).

Retail cooperatives also offer control. Members control in the cooperative by participating in elections and monitoring the progress of the cooperative at annual membership meetings. Members comprise the democratically elected board of directors, who establish policies and oversee the mangement of the cooperative.