Lukáš Nemcik, project manager at the Union of Czech and Moravian Consumer Co-operatives, gave delegates an insight into the Czech co-operative movement and the success of the COOP brand.
Launched in 2004, the brand gave retail co-ops a united identity and is now one of the most successful in the country, used by all co-op members of the union.
“Our most important strategy is to know our customers,” said Mr Nemcik. With an emphasis on customers’ needs, co-operatives provide good quality products for a fair price, while promoting local products. The union includes 48 co-ops with 250,000 members and 16,000 employees across the country. It forms two buying alliances, one in Prague and one in Moravia.
They have developed three types of products at different price points: premium, traditional and low cost – and getting to know their customers is a key aspect of developing these products. People who tend to shop at the COOP are mainly young people, workers or professionals who do not have a lot of time, so the low-cost products have been very successful.
“We do customer surveys every year to see where our brand is right now, how they perceive us, what is their view,” added Mr Nemcik.
They recently launched a mobile pay-as-you-go SIM card. Every time they top up, customers get points, which they can use in the shop to buy other products. They are also embarking on a new venture in the energy sector.
In small villages where there is a lack of public services, COOP shops can help provide these facilities. This encourages local authorities to help co-ops open in remote areas and even help them secure premises.
In COOP shops, 60-80% of the products are produced locally. However, Mr Nemcik believes co-op members could engage more with the local communities. “I think we can learn a lot from the Co-op Group and co-ops in the UK,” he said.
Getting to know the customer is also one of Scotmid’s priorities. After conducting a study into what customers want, the co-operative has launched a new style of ‘premium fresh’ stores.
“We wanted to make a real difference,” said John Dalley, chief financial officer of Scotmid. Speaking at the conference, he explained how customers shopping at the new Scotmid grocery stores can choose from a wider range of fresh products, most of them coming from local producers.
Mr Dalley told delegates how his father, who owned two stores, taught him that the customer came first. He emphasised how important it was for Scotmid to get to know its local communities in order to be able to offer them what they needed.
He gave the example of how, following the merger with Penrith in August last year, Scotmid looked to local staff when developing a new appropriate common identity.
Staff chose the name “Lakes and Dales” because it reflected the local Cumbria and Weardale Valley area.
More from the conference:
James Walton: ‘There is no room to be complacent’
Professor Tim Lang: ‘I have a very sober view of the food system’
Todor Ivanov: Euro Coop encourages European co-operatives to share best practices
Professor Johnston Birchall: Governance lessons from the world’s largest co-operatives
Steve Murrells: ‘We have fallen out of love with food’
Neil Turton: ‘We are a business-owned co-operative’