Governance, membership, and community : developing a regional consumer co-operative in Saskatchewan
Retailers in rural Saskatchewan are having to contend with two predominant trends—rural and retail restructuring. Decreasing rural populations, increased consumer mobility, and the chronic instability of primary industries such as agriculture and forestry continue to impact rural communities in the province. The growing presence of multinational corporations, the drive for economies of scale, and the centralization of services into larger urban centers are all influencing the retail sector, particularly in rural areas. In response to these trends, retail co-operatives operating in Northern and Central Saskatchewan have joined a larger urban-based co-op in Prince Albert to form a regional co-operative. Co-operative theory suggests this regional structure may create internal obstacles for co-ops that differ from those of private firms, as co-operatives must consider the implications of reorganization on membership structures and member relations. While most of the empirical investigation has focused on large agricultural co-operatives, less attention has been afforded to consumer co-operatives.Through interviews with the delegates and managers of the Prince Albert Co-operative Association (PACA), this study examines how a multi-branch consumer co-operative has adapted to the present rural and retail milieu. It investigates the new relationships that have emerged among the key stakeholders including members, delegates, and managers as well as the new relations between the major structures, namely the branches and the central body. The research is a starting point for understanding how member and enterprise interests are mediated, communicated, and coordinated within a regional co-operative. Delegates are the focal point of the study as they play an integral role in all of these relations. The findings of the study suggest that while new relationships do form within a multi-branch system, the primary relationship between members and their local co-op branch remains relatively unaffected. Further, the study on the PACA adds to Fairtlough’s (2005) work on business structural forms called triarchies. It is argued that the integration of hierarchies, heterachies and responsible autonomy in the form of a federated network reinforces the staying power of the co-op in smaller communities.
triarchy, federated networks, co-operative amalgamations, regionalization, rural and retail restructuring, delegates
Master of Arts (M.A.)