Co-op Farm & Garden rewards customers

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The Co-op Farm & Garden in Sequim is giving away cash - to its loyal customers in the form of patronage. What's more striking is that, after battling through 21/2 years of an economic decline, the patron-owned company made a profit in 2009 and is sharing a portion with its customer owners in cash.

"Part of being a co-op is patronage, a share of the profits in cash or stock, usually a 25/75 split," said Mike Youngquist, the store's general manager. "Because of the loyalty of our patrons, we had a pretty darn good year and as a way to show our appreciation, instead of stock we're giving it all - $41,500 - in cash. We think this is a pretty big deal, sending that much out to our active customers."

Customers who join the Co-op, which has no requirements and no fees for membership, receive patronage based on the amount they spend at the store. Anyone can join. As Youngquist says, "The more you put into the Co-op, the more you get out of it."

Among its 2,500 members, the Co-op issued 1,957 checks on July 15, something it's never done in its 74-year history. Of the top 10 checks issued, three went to farmers/ranchers, three to construction companies and four to landscaping companies. The largest check was for more than $700 and 50 were more than $100.

Youngquist and board president Gary Smith know the Co-op well; their grandfathers were among the founders in 1936.

"Clallam Co-op is the oldest existing business in town and owned by its patrons, it couldn't be more locally owned," Youngquist said, reverting to its decades-old name out of habit.

Several years ago, the business changed its name to Co-op Farm & Garden to reflect its broader scope and focused on two key areas, Smith said.

"We made substantial improvements. Our top priority is customer service - greeting them and solving their needs - and reminding them if we don't have something, we can order it. We've also developed a knowledgeable, strong, well-trained staff," Smith said.

"We're working to improve the facility to make for a better shopping experience. Our inventory has changed to reflect changes in the community, to reflect a wider range of customers than farm people," Smith said.

"Word of mouth from satisfied customers is our best advertising," Youngquist said. "We've been here 70 years and hope to be here another 70 years."

Co-op Farm & Garden is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at 216 E. Washington St. Call 683-4111.

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