Three Hays businesses are in a group of about 4,000 companies nationwide that are 100 percent employee owned under a system known as Employee Stock Ownership Plans, or ESOPs. These businesses include Tradehome Shoes, which is located in Big Creek Crossing; Western Supply; and Eagle Communications, which is headquartered in Hays and owns and operates Hays Post.
ESOPs are retirement plans that are allowed under federal law, according to ESOP Association. Employees of an ESOP can become vested in the stock in their company in a variety of ways, including numbers of years of service. Employees who are vested can take the cash value of their shares when they retire, leave the company or upon death or disability. There are about 7,000 ESOPs in the U.S., covering almost 11 million employees, but only 4,000 of those are 100 percent employee owned.
Tradehome has been privately owned since it was founded by Alex Mains in 1921 with the purchase of two shoe stores in the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin. The owners of the company sold the company to the employees in 2014, and it became an ESOP. Tradehome has 111 stores in 21 states across the Midwest. They carry over 150 brands of shoes.
You must be a full-time employee and 21 years old to participate in the Tradehome ESOP. Vesting is based in part on hours worked for the company. Tradehome in Hays has five employees. Dan Smurawa, Hays manager, has been a manager for a little less than two years and is 20 percent vested in the company. “Knowing that I can be an owner of a company just boosts my productivity, and I think it goes the same for a lot of Tradehome employees across the nation,” he said. Smurawa said he saw many benefits to the ESOP. Highly motivated employees provide better customer service, he said. “I think I can hold my employees to a higher standard, representing us properly, going out and finding people who genuinely want to help our guests and fit them for what they need,” Smurawa said.
The ESOP is a recruiting tool for Tradehome. The starting manager salary also went up since the company became an ESOP. “I think a lot of people look toward the future, and if there are benefits and retirement plans for them to plan for and look forward to, I think that can keep quality people too,” he said. Smurawa is only 22, but he is already thinking about his future. “I have been educated on compounded interest and the rule of 72,” he said. “Just looking at my parents, I think they could have benefited from early retirements and plans set in stone earlier. I think it is an important thing for our youth to be aware of and take advantage of.
“This isn’t my first retirement plan of sorts. I actually have another one. It is nothing I am in the dark about. There is always something I want to know about our ESOP and any way I can benefit myself and my family. Even at such a young time, the harder that I work now, can leave us better off sooner rather than at 65 when we are not as able to have fun and do the things we wish to do.”