Winegars Employees Think They Own The Place...And They Do!

Winegars Offers Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)

By Dana Rimington, Standard-Examiner correspondent

Winegars Marketplace, a family-owned grocery business in Northern Utah for nearly 100 years, recently handed over part of the company to employees.

With the formation of an employee stock option program (ESOP), 30 percent of the company is now owned by the employees.

"We're no longer just a fourth-generation store," said Weston Winegar, CFO for Winegars Marketplace. "We are now employee-owned and excited about making a transition to the future."

With stores in Clearfield and Roy, Winegars Marketplace is launching into new territory with its employees at the helm.

John Burton, who has worked for the company for 34 years and is now an office manager, knows this is a step in the right direction.

"This is an opportunity for the employees to have investment in the company," said Burton. "Additionally, this is a form of retirement with our 401(k) plan and is a way for the company to take care of us."

Taking care of their employees is exactly what Winegar had in mind when he began planning this four years ago.

"A transition to an ESOP is not the best way to make money," said Winegar. "However, it's not about the business trend, but more in the belief that when everyone has ownership, there is a care factor involved. In the long run, it leads to better business and eventually affects the bottom line."

All employees working at least 20 hours per week and having worked for the company at least a year will receive shares based on a percentage of their wage. The ESOP set by Winegars Marketplace is 100 percent funded by the company, according to Winegar.

Winegars Marketplace is a big believer in supporting local and small businesses, which was a driving factor in choosing to set up an ESOP program.

"Starting the ESOP is the foundation of our focus to support local businesses," said Winegar.

As the country moves away from small businesses seeking out chain stores for their purchases, Winegars is moving toward getting more local farmers and small employee-owned businesses involved with their store.

"Since we're now employee-owned, it gives us the opportunity, more than in the past, to promote these local companies to increase their business as well as our own locally-owned business," said Burton.

Dawson Winchester, the community representative for Winegars, knows the efforts it takes to stay involved in their communities.

"The current tendency is to go away from mom and pop shops, which is crushing on our economic system. Trying to keep them in business is harder and harder to do," said Winchester. "We are trying to get information out to the community that eventually, if they all shut down, we'll be in big trouble."

One of the local farmers the store works with closely is Layne McFarland, of West Weber, who sells primarily sweet corn and pumpkins.

"I find that it is more fulfilling and satisfying for me to interact with people through direct sales," said McFarland, who has the opportunity to see and visit with the customers purchasing his product when he delivers his products.

Winegars knows it may have to pay a little more up front for some of the local produce, but getting the money into the local community will pay off in the long run by helping the money stay in the area and creating jobs in the community.

Since the program is relatively new, employees are still learning the ropes and how it affects their future.

The only complaint they have received so far is workers wondering why the company didn't do this 20 years ago.