What Is a Co-op?

Wondering what a co-op is? Cooperatives, or co-ops, are businesses that buy and sell products or services similarly to commercial businesses. However, cooperatives are owned by and operated for the benefit of their members. Membership can be as simple as banking with a local credit union or shopping at a local food co-op, and as comprehensive as running a local, family business part of a larger cooperative group.

Owned by Members to Serve Members

A co-op is owned and controlled by its members, instead of investors outside of the business. Profits are reinvested in the co-op or distributed to members, instead of solely benefiting corporate entities or boards of directors. This cyclical business model is a contemporary, democratic approach to business.

Because of how they are owned, co-ops have an impact on the local economy, people and community beyond the impact of conventional corporations. Co-ops share a deep commitment to the community that impacts local people and profits through programs and activities that are supported by cooperative values and principles. Each co-op exists primarily to benefit the members that own it. So, members get the products and services they need and also have a say in the business decisions the cooperative makes.

People join and start co-ops for a variety of reasons. Find a co-op near you to learn about what they bring to your community and their membership benefits.



Co-ops Follow Seven Cooperative Principles

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
    Membership is open to all people able to use cooperative services and without discrimination.
  • Democratic Member Control
    Co-operatives are controlled by their members, who set policy and make decisions for the business to benefit the members.
  • Member Economic Participation
    Members contribute equitably to the cooperative\’s capital. Member participation in the co-op then results in a surplus that is reinvested in the co-op or distributed to its members.
  • Autonomy and Independence
    Co-operatives are autonomous organizations that supported by their members and only allow support from external resources if democracy is ensured for members.
  • Education, Training and Information
    Development of co-ops is ensured by a commitment to education and training for co-op members, elected representatives, managers, and employees,
  • Co-operation among Co-operatives
    Co-ops work together through local, national, regional and international structures that help grow the cooperative movement.
  • Concern for Community
    Members support policies that encourage the development and sustainability of local communities.

Leveraging the Power of Scale to Grow Local Businesses

Regardless of industry, co-ops offer solutions based on the mutual needs of its co-owners, or members. By joining together, co-op members create access to products, services or markets that may not be available to individuals otherwise. Co-ops return financial gains to members through discounts, lower costs, refunds and surplus.


Types of Co-op Sectors

The cooperative business model is successfully used in many different sectors of today’s economy. Cooperatives may look like any other business, but are actually very different. Co-op sectors are united by cooperative values and principles, and co-ops within each sector share structural and membership similarities.

 Agriculture Co-ops
 Credit Unions & Financial Co-ops
 Food Co-ops
 Housing Co-ops
 Industry, Art & Service Co-ops
 Mutual Insurance
 Retail Co-ops
 Social Co-ops
 Utilities Co-ops


Find a Co-op Near Me

Cooperatives are everywhere; they can be difficult to discover because they often look like typical commercial businesses. But, they are doing business differently – just ask their members. Find a co-op near you to learn more about the exclusive member benefits for co-op members.