This was the question posed by David Smith in AN account of a fact-finding visit to North Stockholm on the Progressive Co-operators website and in a more detailed article in the Co-operative News [19.7.11], from which the following extracts are taken.
He asked: “Does the small-scale, devolved structure of the Scandinavian retailer offer a way forward for Britain?”
Co-operative store groups there play a crucial role, which could point the way forward for the movement in Britain as it looks to expand.
The example of Co-op Medlem Norrort, one of 43 Swedish co-operative food retail societies, was cited. With an overall market share of 20% and 11 stores, it has 70,000 members and a turnover of approximately £13.5 million.
“Although their food business is contracted out to a federal body (KF), they maintain a regular and close working relationships with food managers. Significantly, they retain ownership of their own shops.
“Of real interest was the different approach to structuring relations with their members. Do store groups provide a further opportunity for making the connection between membership and responsibility for their business?
“This structure immediately focuses activity upon promoting store trade and membership. Their ability to consider both local and also wider issues is evident, with motions on aspects of trade progressing to KF.
“ Each store group services itself, with its own chair. The size of store groups ranges from three to 15 people. Members at a specific store are elected at an annual society meeting. They meet monthly with the store manager and a Board member attends each meeting.
“A lay secretary takes minutes, which are passed to the Board. The chair is responsible for calling meetings, using agenda items to facilitate two-way communication.
“These Swedish store groups arrange, promote and support local and seasonal products, and other activities with their local manager. This structure provides an open, accessible local structure, and a devolved approach to membership, emphasising involvement and acting as a local contact point for members wishing to raise issues or contribute ideas.
“All operate within the formal structure of the society designed to engage with members. Working in partnership with the local manager, they emphasise an obvious difference with competitors.
“Should we adopt such a structure to provide a more human scale contact with members? Could we provide a better mechanism to facilitate all the extra members who we wish to involve at a grass roots level?”
“Some of our competitors fully understand the importance of responding to local community needs. For the future, could store groups become an essential ingredient in our approach to rewarding mutuality and reciprocity as part of a wider grass roots movement?