Member Spotlight

Employee-Owned Spotlight: Big Sandy Superstore

March 8, 2023

Big Sandy Superstore is a furniture and appliance company that has been serving customers in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia since 1953. The company has grown significantly over the years and today, operates 21 stores and employs over 550 people. This formerly family-owned business decided to sell the company to its employees, establishing their Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 2006. The ESOP was established by the company's founders as a way to give back to the employees who helped the company grow over the years.At first, there was skepticism about the benefits of the ESOP and employee ownership in general. Over the years, employees have seen just how impactful an ESOP can be. “Creating the ESOP was a win-win for everyone. This was a way to grow the company and take it to the next level,” CEO Trey VanHoose said. “Over the past few years, we’ve had employees surpass $500,000 in their ESOP accounts and some are on their way to $1 million. When people can see that the ESOP can be life-changing, it really puts things in perspective for them. That’s when it became real.”‍‍Commitment to Ownership Culture Employee ownership has created a culture of dedication and commitment among their employees, who take pride in their work and the company's success. Employee owners are invested in the success of the company and are motivated to provide excellent customer service. They are knowledgeable about the products and services offered by the company and work hard to ensure customer satisfaction.“Our employees proudly wear their name tags that identify them as being an owner,” Trey said. “By identifying themselves as an owner, customers understand that they have skin in the game. They can expect a higher level of customer service. ”Establishing a strong ownership culture can take time and repetition. From day one, employees are engaged in education about the ESOP and employee ownership. During their three-day new hire orientation, new employees can expect to learn about how the ESOP functions and the benefits of working for an employee-owned company. By partnering with us at Certified EO, Big Sandy Superstore has been able to take advantage of our extensive educational library to complement their own educational materials.“We try to tie everything we do back to employee ownership and how things will benefit the ESOP, which in turn benefits our employee owners,” said David Smith, Director of Sales and Operations. Regularly engaging with employee owners throughout the year keeps employee ownership top of mind. “There are lots of times throughout the year we engage with our employee-owners. From our annual ESOP meeting, to EO Month celebrations, from new hire orientation, we do our best to share knowledge throughout the year. ”Dedicating time and resources to educating the company’s employee-owners can have a real impact on how they work. Trey expended on this idea, “Having buy-in from the employee-owners helps everyone to be unified behind a common goal. Employees have a better understanding of how their actions can affect the bottom line, so they are able to identify things like cost savings opportunities. ”Big Sandy Superstore is a unique employee-owned business in that they have more direct interaction with the public than most employee-owned companies (a majority of employee-owned companies operate business-to-business with clients and customers). Big Sandy Superstore has done a great job at marketing themselves as an employee-owned company not only with their employee name tags, but also things like store signage and social media. To learn more about Big Sandy Superstore, visit their website.

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Employee-Owned Spotlight: Acadian Companies

February 13, 2023

Certified EO is excited to spotlight Acadian Companies, a majority employee-owned company with several healthcare divisions, including medical transportation, healthcare, residential and commercial security equipment and monitoring, emergency medicine education, and aircraft charter services. Headquartered in Lafayette, Louisiana, Acadian Companies operates across 130 locations with over 5,200 employees. Acadian’s ambulance services, its first line of business when it opened in 1971, provides medical care to more than 21 million residents across 63,000 square miles in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Covering a vast rural population, Acadian launched an air ambulance division in the 1980s to respond more quickly to emergency situations offshore and in swamps, bayous, and marsh lands. In 2005, Acadian played a crucial role in the disaster response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana. Acadian Companies created its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 1993, and today its employee-owners hold 80% ownership in the company. Throughout the years, Acadian has become a premier medical services company with a national footprint, reflected in the company's share price growth from less than a dollar to nearly fifty dollars today. Building a Life-Changing Nest Egg Since the inception of Acadian’s ESOP, a number of employee-owners have had the opportunity to retire comfortably, in large part due to the growth of their ESOP accounts over their career. While receiving an allocation of company shares each year can accumulate into tens of thousands of dollars, consistent annual growth in a company’s share price is what can push an ESOP account into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or even over $1 million in value. Acadian has recorded only one year in which the share price declined. Over the past decade, employee-owners have benefitted from the compound annual growth in the share price hovering around 15%. Cody White, a paramedic field supervisor and member of Acadian’s ESOP Committee, spoke to the shift in mindset he experienced himself, and sees in others, when he started to grasp how an ESOP account can grow over the decades. “If I’m here 25 or 30 years, I’m going to have a big return. ESOP is a fantastic way to plan for your future,” Cody said. He recalled meeting with a financial advisor who told him he could retire as a millionaire, which really got his attention. Once an employee-owner connects the dots between the company’s profitability and the year-to-year growth of their account balance, they begin to understand how their work can contribute both positively and negatively to the company's success. “If somebody breaks a stretcher, it could cost $20,000. We have to take care of our stuff,” Cody said. “When we all do our part, we can benefit down the road.” Building this understanding among younger generations of employees can be a significant challenge. After joining the company at 18 years old, it wasn’t until a supervisor spelled out the numbers to Cody that he really started to see the potential. Companies providing EMS services often also struggle with hiring and retention. Many EMS staff approach the role as a stepping stone and will move on to a degree program or another role within healthcare. Caitlin Russo, Acadian’s PR and marketing manager, spoke to the company’s efforts to invest in its employee-owners in a line of work often experiencing costly turnover. “Being employee-owned shows people this can be a long-term career. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth and promotion within the company,” she said. As employee-owners gain experience, they often progress into management or grow into roles in support departments that lengthen their tenure at Acadian. Celebrating the ESOP Acadian’s ESOP Committee shares information company-wide about how their ESOP functions, what employee-owners should understand about it, and how it can benefit them. Beyond educating employee-owners, the committee also organizes an annual ESOP Week, often in the spring or during Employee Ownership Month in October. Part of ESOP Week is the company’s annual cook-off competition, with prizes given out and committee members presiding as judges. ESOP Week is also an important time to continue the committee’s education efforts. Keeping the ESOP top of mind for employee-owners prevents it from slipping into a once-a-year discussion when employees receive their annual statements. Investing in a culture of ownership, including creative programming with activities and prizes, can provide an informal opportunity to drive the message home. In 2021, Acadian celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the company is also approaching the 30th anniversary of its ESOP. To learn more about the company’s employee ownership program, visit Acadian’s website.

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Employee-Owned Spotlight: Al. Neyer

June 1, 2022

Certified EO is excited to spotlight Al. Neyer, a 100% employee-owned and Cincinnati-based real estate development company. With offices in Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and Nashville, Al. Neyer has over 125 years of experience delivering commercial, medical, industrial, mixed-use, and residential construction projects throughout the Eastern U.S.Founded in 1894 as a carpentry and contracting company, Al. Neyer — named after the founder’s grandson, Alphonse — steadily grew with each new generation of family owners. By the fifth generation of Neyer family leadership, the firm had added licensed designers and architects to its team and began work developing several industrial parks in Greater Cincinnati.Al. Neyer was an early adopter of the “design-build” approach to completing construction projects, an alternative to the more traditional “design-bid-build” method. Design-bid-build requires project owners to separately contract an architect and general contractor, which can complicate communications between the three parties, or even force the owner to mediate disputes between designers and contractors if they arise. Design-build firms, on the other hand, allow owners to sign a single contract, streamline communications, and often complete projects in a more timely fashion. Al. Neyer implements this approach across its portfolio of clients, which includes REI Co-op and Vanderbilt University..In 2014 the company made the transition from family-owned to employee-owned when it established and funded its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). The following year, the company appointed its first female president, Molly North, to oversee its expansion into Nashville, its third market, followed by Raleigh in 2019. Now with over 140 employees, all of whom are eligible to join the company’s ESOP and share in the success of its growth, Al. Neyer has its sights set on continued expansion into new markets.The onset of the pandemic in 2020 brough unique challenges and opportunities to Al. Neyer. Following construction shutdowns, a sudden ramp-up of activity in the second half of the year led to an 86% increase in total square footage of construction signings from 2019, followed by another 30% increase in new activity from 2020 to 2021. Since 2014, Al. Neyer has recorded impressive share price growth in its Annual Reports, including a 27% average annual increase between 2014 and 2019. And with the surge of new construction activity in 2020, the company’s share price spiked from $56.42 to $119.55, more than doubling the value of the shares held by employee-owners.Beyond Al. Neyer’s financial success, the company has shown steady commitment to its communities, including over $450,000 in donations and sponsorships granted in 2021. Al. Neyer has also received several awards for its workplace culture, including multiple designations from the Cincinnati Business Courier’s Best Places to Work award and a Top Place to Work award four times since 2017.Al. Neyer became a Member of Certified EO in 2022. If you are a Certified EO Member and would like to see your company’s story featured in a future spotlight article, please contact your Membership Manager.

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