Ownership Culture Runs Deep at Gardener’s Supply Company
Employee ownership is deeply rooted in the culture at the 2018 ESOP Company of the Year, Burlington, VT-based Gardener’s Supply Company. “It is part of who we are… it’s our identity,” says the company’s Director of HR Christie Kane.
Even a brief look reveals how fully the employee owners—from top to bottom—and the company are committed to broad-based employee ownership. For example, Gardener’s offers seasonal employees the chance to participate in the ESOP after their second year with the company.
Brad Bolton, who is Material Handling Lead at Gardener’s Supply, got his start as one of those seasonal employees. Bolton could tell right away that Gardener’s had a special culture: He could see it in the way employees interacted with each other.
The inclusive and motivated behavior of his colleagues spurred Bolton to become one of them, so he applied for a full time position. His understanding of and appreciation for the concept of employee ownership really kicked into high gear once he “became fully immersed in the culture,” he says.
As Bolton began to grasp that the roots of Gardener’s culture lay in its approach to living employee ownership, he became more involved in spreading the word.
Today, Bolton is the Chair of the Gardener’s Supply ESOP Committee, which itself is a prime example of the company’s cultural commitment. This 11-person group meets for an hour and a half every other week with the goal of “nurturing and sustaining the culture of employee ownership.”
Gardener’s investment in ownership reaches from its ESOP committee all the way to the top of the organization: The committee has an advisory board member who serves as the group’s liaison to the board of directors. This ensures that employee owner interests are included in planning discussions.
Including an advisory board member on an ESOP committee is fairly unique, and it is just one of the ways that Gardener’s has committed itself to living its ownership culture. The company has been an ESOP since 1987, and has invested years in refining its approach for educating employee owners and fine-tuning its interactive culture.
Examples of other approaches that have worked for Gardener’s include:
- A Brownie for Your Thoughts. Each year, Gardener’s employee owners are personally invited to offer their ideas, questions, and concerns—in return for a fresh baked brownie. The questions are addressed and the answers are shared with the entire staff. For Gardener’s, this has been an effective way to open a line of communication with employee owners who might not otherwise feel comfortable asking questions about the organization.
- Solstice Celebration. The anniversary of Gardener’s transition to 100 percent employee ownership falls on the winter solstice. Each year, employees remember the day by gathering to celebrate. Gardener’s includes customers in the experience: Its retail stores serve desserts to customers as a way of symbolically sharing a “piece of the pie.” This event helps open a dialogue between Gardener’s employee owners and the community they serve. This kind of interaction can help employee owners better understand customers’ needs and can help customers gain an appreciation for the passion and dedication of Gardener’s employee owners.
Pride in the company’s culture, and in the employee owners who embody that culture, is clearly something worth sharing.
“This kind of interaction can help employee owners better understand
customers’ needs and can help customers gain an appreciation for
the passion and dedication of Gardener’s employee owners.”
“We get a direct benefit for caring and doing our best, and it shows in our workforce,” says Cindy Turcot, Gardener’s President. “We have great employees, low turnover, and employees who offer ideas, constructive criticism, and solutions.”
At Gardener’s, the time invested in developing a home-grown culture of ownership and engagement certainly has paid off.