An idea for your succession plan

Departments - Editor’s Note

January 26, 2018

Michelle Simakis

Though it is often believed that family-owned companies are unique and more prevalent in the independent garden center industry, in actuality, about 90 percent of companies nationwide are operated or owned by families.

What is rarer are family-owned businesses that survive past the first generation. About a third of family-owned companies continue to be operated by individuals in the second generation, 12 percent in the third and just 3 percent in the fourth and beyond, according to the Family Business Alliance.

I don’t have statistics on this, but there seem to be more IGCs that remain family owned beyond the first generation. It’s not easy, though, and we’ve reported on at least three IGCs that had to close in 2017 after the owners retired and couldn’t find a buyer or a family member to take over.

January is a month for planning, and many of you may be hoping to retire soon or be thinking about your succession plan. For the first issue of 2018, we are examining an alternative business model — employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, as an option when family isn’t interested in assuming ownership.

Two of the companies we spoke to for the cover story — Gardener’s Supply Company and Armstrong Garden Centers/Pike Nurseries — developed ESOPs after the owners determined their most viable buyers were the employees already dedicated to the company. They wanted the buyers to care as much about the future of the staff, the businesses and the communities as they did. The model is not for everyone, however, and according to the National Center for Employee Ownership, most companies that develop ESOPs have at least 30 employees. Read more about Gardener’s Supply Company’s story on page 18, and learn more about Armstrong and Pike and moving to an ESOP on page 26.

Another issue that may be top of mind is sexual harassment, as stories of misconduct continue to be shared. Sexual harassment in the workplace was center stage at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, as celebrities wore black and “Time’s Up” pins, referencing the legal defense fund that provides subsidized legal support to those who have experienced sexual harassment, assault or abuse in the workplace. Kellee Magee O’Reilly wrote an open letter to the green industry about this very topic, “We are not immune,” which you can read on page 48. If you missed Jean Seawright’s December column, “Take stock of sexual harassment policies,” you can read it here: Seawright notes that approximately one in four women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. This behavior is not limited to politicians or powerful men in Hollywood, and she suggests companies develop policies now before they face a surprise claim.

Michelle Simakis