It’s a typical rainy Sunday in Manchester, but that didn’t deter me from doing a little exploring before all the action begins later in the week. Armed with a map, I headed toward the main shopping area in the city’s downtown; I had walked for about 10 minutes when I suddenly noticed a familiar sign: The Co-operative. My heart skipped a beat as I found myself face to face with a UK institution that I had written about on numerous occasions, but had never seen in person.
The Co-operative Group – or just “the Co-op” as people call it in the UK — is a remarkable organization with a fascinating history. It’s story goes all the way back to 1863, when the North of England Co-operative Society was launched by some 300 co-ops in Yorkshire and Lancashire. By 1872, it had become known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society, and in subsequent years, a wide range of other co-op organizations merged with it to create The Co-operative Group we know today.
By the 1990s, the Co-operative Group was facing hard times; it had lost much of its market share and consumer perception was that it was dowdy and old-fashioned. In 2006, it embarked on a rebranding campaign that created a modern and unified brand image for all parts of the Co-operative Group, including food stores, travel services, pharmacies, funeral services and the Co-operative Bank. The rebranding campaign – and a series of mergers with other UK co-operative organizations — turned The Co-operative around. Today it has over six million members, more than120,000 employees and is the UK’s fifth largest food retailer.
I was greeted at the Co-op by a lovely woman who was very friendly, and even friendlier when I told her who I was and what I was doing in Manchester. In fact, she is one of the legion of co-op volunteers who is helping with the set-up for Co-operatives United, and brochures for Co-operatives United were prominently displayed in the store. “Do you have one of these?” she said, holding up a brochure.
The store itself was very attractive, with a wide variety of products and eye-catching displays. A prominent sign at the cash said “You can now find one of our stores in every UK postal area,” and bore the tagline “good with food”. It was a wonderful start to a great day in Manchester.
– Donna Balkan