It was the third season in which the Wall, South Dakota-based co-op hosted tailgate parties before high school football games to score face-to-face time with an elusive segment of its membership: time-starved working families with school-age children.
"We got to meet the parents with kids—the age group that we have the toughest challenge to make contact with," said Kusser, manager of member services at West River Electric Association.
"We just weren't getting to our younger people. They're busy with kids and can't take time off work for an annual meeting. We had to go where they were."
Grand Electric Cooperative in Bison and West River Cooperative Telephone Co host tailgates as well, and for the same reason. "A lot of people go to the games. They might have family members playing or maybe it's someone they babysat. This is a small community, so there aren't a lot of social gatherings. Football games are what kids do," said Rachel Eggebo, marketing/tech specialist for both co-ops.
Research indicates that there is good reason to make contact with this particular group.. Members in the 25-44 age range report being the least satisfied with their electric co-op, according to the 2016-2017 Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives National Survey on the Cooperative Difference by TSE Services.
"Members with children are likely to have higher energy use, are younger, have shorter tenure with the cooperative and may be under greater financial stress, all of which contribute to lower scores," the survey said.
Only about 30 miles separate West River Electric's Wall headquarters and the town of New Underwood. So when the longtime rival New Underwood Tigers and Wall Eagles had a game scheduled, the co-op set up tents and tables, fired up the grills and mixed and mingled with the crowd.
"We chose to do the Wall/New Underwood game because we serve both communities," said Kusser.
Grand Electric's Eggebo, her coworkers and the co-ops' directors add T-shirt guns to their grilled fare.
"By attending some of the games each year, it helps our members to see us as people—just like them—instead of just a business," said Eggebo. "They can put a face to a name, and we can, too."