The Self Help Co-op was established in the grocery trade primarily to benefit the community. Instead of making the highest possible profit on goods sold, the Self Help Co-op rejected normal trading methods and sold goods for the lowest possible profit. This meant the public could purchase higher-quality groceries at lower prices, stretching their hard-earned wages further and benefiting their families.
Success was not always assured, nor did it come without trials and struggles. Co-op methods were quickly accepted by the people who readily provided their own wrapping paper and string which low-margin profit did not allow in those early days. But powerful interests, who could not, or would not, see that the Self Help Co-op way was the economic way, often bitterly opposed it. Self Help fought for its principles, constantly repaying public patronage with lower prices. So it grew – to 18 shops in 1926, 56 in 1929, 130 in 1932 and in 1942, nearly 200 shops.
The Self-Help Co-op was also successful in pioneering staff benefits. Long before the Wage’s Tax and years before Social Security, the Staff Benefit Fund was introduced. Contributions of 1.25% on wages secured up to 90% sick pay, 100% medical expenses, $5 baby bonus, and $100 death benefit. Besides a quarterly bonus, $5000 was distributed to the staff annually in bonus payments. A Trust Fund for members of the staff serving in the Forces overseas was also established – a fund which was administered by the staff itself.
All in all, Self Help made a contribution to the co-operative idea which is almost unique.
With price fixing being more widely adopted by manufacturers in the 1930s, Self Help found it was not possible to sell some products at lower prices through its organisation. This is meant having to deviate from the policy of “lowest possible profit,” and the Sutherland family decided the extra return must go back to the people. To make this decision a reality, Arthur Sutherland conceived of the Sutherland Self Help Trust. Before the Trust was completed, Ben Sutherland personally investigated the operations of similar Trusts in the U.S.A and Canada.
The inauguration of the Sutherland Self Help Trust was a culmination of the Self Help Co-op’s policy of furthering community welfare.