The relationship between size and service is a dilemma many businesses have to face. As companies grow, their purchasing power and market share increase, and they benefit from economies of scale. On the other hand, the bigger they get, the more difficult it is to provide good, personalized service to their customers.

Cooperatives were created to solve that exact problem, according to Jim Coens, chairman of PrimeraTurf, a nationwide business cooperative focused on the T&O and golf markets. Its stated mission is “to provide PrimeraTurf members with procurement, branding, information and educational tools required for success in today’s business.”

“Co-ops give owners greatly enhanced buying power and a bigger knowledge base while still allowing them to operate locally and provide that personal touch to their customers,” says Coens, who is also VP of sales with Conserv FS Inc., an agricultural co-op serving companies in southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

“Primera is a group of 61 independent retailers, all of which are owners of Primera,” Coens explains. “We don’t actually purchase or inventory any products; we pool our volumes, purchasing power and other financial advantages to benefit our 61 owner companies.”

We recently chatted with Coens to learn more about co-ops and their role in the marketplace.

Q. What was PrimeraTurf created to do? How do manufacturers, owners and superintendents benefit from it?

Coens: The buying power Primera provides is obviously greater than any one of our members companies would have on their own, and that definitely helps with getting the best prices. But every owner also benefits from enhanced access to, and knowledge about, the newest available products and technologies — something that a local, independent company generally wouldn’t have. The manufacturer benefits from greater market share, growth and brand support. The owner benefits from the economies of scale that come with being part of a large, national network of companies. The superintendent benefits from lower prices and better information, yet still gets the attention and service that only a local independent can provide.

Q. What do you think Primera’s role is, as far as educating the marketplace?

Coens: That’s one of the biggest advantages we can offer to superintendents. The manufacturers educate Primera’s owner companies, who push that knowledge out to their customers. A local, independent business simply doesn’t have access to so much information, and that’s a major advantage. So many new products and technologies are becoming available on a daily basis that it’s impossible to stay on top of them all by yourself.

By the same token, the super still gets all of the benefits of the local knowledge that member companies can offer. That’s not something they can get from a huge, national company. It’s the best of both worlds.

To make sure all of our owners stay up to speed, we have a weekly newsletter that educates them about new products and industry trends. And of course, each of our owners has a built-in network of 60 other companies whose experience and knowledge they can learn from. We want our members to share the marketplace, not compete in it.

Q. Can anyone join Primera? What do you evaluate if a company expresses interest in joining and becoming an owner?

Coens: We are always looking to add new owners, and there’s a full list of criteria that companies have to meet if they want to join. The biggest and most important one is customer care. We want companies that truly care about their customers, and are interested in doing more than providing good prices. It’s not always about the price. Does the company have sales reps calling on their customers to learn about their needs? Are they out in the field, talking to superintendents on a regular basis? That’s the kind of company we want as an owner; we don’t want the “1-800-I-GOT-CHEMICALS” kind of company. We want to raise the bar in this industry.

Q. Superintendent recently conducted a survey in which 76 percent of respondents said that they utilize some sort of buying cooperative. What are your thoughts about that number?

Coens: It seems too high. A lot of superintendents might not know exactly what a cooperative is, and they think they’re buying from one when they really aren’t — or vice versa, when they are buying from a co-op and don’t know it. I’m sure there are customers who buy from my company, Conserv, but have no idea that we’re a part of Primera. And they really don’t need to, because Primera exists to serve the owners, and the owners exist to serve the superintendents.

Q. How else do superintendents benefit from purchasing through a co-op rather than a big, multinational company?

Coens: We touched on this a little bit earlier and it sounds cliché, but it’s really about the customer service that only a local company can provide. It all comes down to what is most important: the superintendent, or the sale? We all want the sale, of course, but the relationship is every bit as important to us. Primera’s owners don’t just make the sale and walk away; they live in the community, and focus more on long-term success rather than just making a quick buck and walking away.

There’s another advantage to buying from a co-op that a lot of people don’t realize: tax dollars. When a superintendent buys from his local, independent shop, the taxes stay right there in the community. It’s a trend that you see across the entire agricultural sector: an emphasis on buying locally. Today’s consumers are really looking for ways to help out the people in their own communities, whether it’s buying fertilizer from the local distributor or going to a local farmers’ market tobuy their produce. So, even if all of the other advantages that a co-op offers went away, and every business offered their products at the exact same price, superintendents would still benefit because the tax revenue is helping their neighbors in the community.