Growth is the focus of employee-owned Buehler’s


More than a paycheck

Shanahan believes three things motivate people beyond their salaries: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

“People want to have a little bit of autonomy. They want to have a little bit of purpose, and the commitment to the training and really helping them learn the departments that they’re working in is big for people,” Shanahan says.

To that end, the company is considering counseling employees on their career paths, talking with them so they understand what jobs are available, what they pay and what skills they need to get those jobs. It’s allowing employees to self-select, and the company’s commitment to transparency means their career options are right out in front of them.

“Why have it be a big mystery?” Shanahan asks.

It’s a concept modeled after a guidance counselor, someone who can help employees manage their careers with check-ins along the way. In the future, there could also be an online component that employees can use to see what jobs are available, what they pay and where the employee is at in respect to that job and how long until they’re in a position to apply for it.

“That’s a win-win for all — for us and for employees,” Shanahan says.

Back to growth

Admittedly, Shanahan says the year of the sale was a bit of a distraction for the company.

Though the majority of its employees were kept unaware of the potential transaction, he says the focus on the sale took attention away from growth initiatives. As the structure of the ESOP becomes clearer, Shanahan is eager to get back on the growth track.

“We want to grow rapidly,” he says.

The company is planting the seeds right now for growth in diverse areas, such as the possibility of standalone restaurants and how to capitalize on catering, which is doing extremely well.

“Ten years from now, we would like to double twice in our volume,” Shanahan says, by which he means any and all aspects of the current business, and any lines that may develop in the coming years.

Shanahan breaks the company down into three parts:

Stores, which he calls the organic section of the company.

Vertical, which is the company’s commissary through which it sells product to other supermarkets outside of Ohio through brokers, and a warehouse that the company has shared with other retailers to work off of each other’s buys.

Margins or perimeter business, which would include Buehler’s catering and food service, a once small, but expanding aspect of the whole.

“We really want to place our bets on all of those, and whichever ones take off, we just want to be ready to have it be scalable,” he says. “There are a lot of independent retailers doing that. We have some good friends in the business that have three or four, five formats and 60-70 stores with three or four or five formats. You used to always say you don’t want to get away from your core competency. Well, today you want to go where you can get some growth.”

Happy customers

Buehler’s is happy to remain a community company — it’s an inherent aspect of the family business. And the community is happy that it gets to keep its local grocer.

Since the switch to an ESOP, Shanahan has noticed more interest in the company, and the communities in which the stores are located are very happy with the outcome since there was a belief that there would’ve been a lot of jobs lost if the company had sold to an outside buyer.

“The Buehler family, I know, is very happy the way this turned out,” Shanahan says. “It’s a 90-year-old company, and preserving all those jobs was big.”

But, Shanahan notes, to maintain that sentiment, the company must continue to deliver on its unique selling propositions.

“Our business is not easy that way,” he says. “You can’t rest on your laurels for too long.”


  • Employees live on the front lines. Learn from them.
  • Autonomy, mastery and purpose can mean as much or more than salary.
  • Consider the impact on the community when making big business decisions.