Loyalty is reciprocal

Dedication to employees, the community has real benefits

Buehler’s employees now own its grocery business. As the Buehler family, a staple in the Wooster area, looked to sell its 13 grocery stores, they chose to sell back to their staff as an ESOP, rather than to an outside entity.

In speaking with Dan Shanahan, president and CEO of Buehler’s Fresh Foods, for this month’s cover, he talked a lot about bottom-up management.

To him, forming an ESOP didn’t initiate a bottom-up decision structure because it legally created a company of shareholders; rather it solidified a management approach the company already had in place.

Having spent his professional career in the grocery business, Shanahan says bottom-up management works primarily because employees spend all of their time on the front lines, stocking shelves, using the tools of the trade and most importantly, servicing customers.

“We need them to all be ambassadors,” Shanahan says. “The perceptions that we have in the marketplace really begin and end with their interaction.”

Additionally, with unemployment as low as it is, giving employees a voice in how the company approaches the market and how it treats them imbues a sense of ownership that helps with retention, a factor companies seem to place considerable value in recently.

Another aspect in the decision to sell the company to employees was the perceived impact that selling to an outside buyer would have on the community. Though there was a lot of interest in the chain from potential buyers, it was believed the transaction would cost jobs as overlap was eliminated.

A quick peek at the comments on Buehler’s Facebook page regarding the sale revealed what I would characterize as a community thankful for the move, well aware of what the alternative might have been. At least a couple of posters pledged to spend more at the store, seemingly because the money would stay in the community and help their neighbors, evidence that loyalty goes both ways, and carries real implications for everyone involved.

Adam is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.