A solid goal Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Attracting and keeping good employees can be difficult, but a good benefits plan can go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.

Knowing that, Don Cochran decided to seek a new source of help in putting together a comprehensive financial plan for Warehouse Cabinets Inc. and implementing a better benefits plan for his employees.

“The organizations we had dealt with tended to be, ‘OK, here’s a bunch of literature, you guys read through it, decide what you want to do, hand it to your employees so they can decide what they want to do, and let us know,’” says Cochran, founder, owner and president of Warehouse Cabinets. “It made a terrible assumption that, one, we had time for that, and two, even if we did, we’d know what we were doing.”

Before deciding to move ahead with a new plan and a benefits package, make sure that you are committed to the process. Planning does take time and effort — it took about six months during 2007 for Cochran’s plan to be completed — and if you are not committed, the plan and package will never come together.

“It’s easy for stuff like that to get pushed on a back burner, and the end result being you make some rash or quick decisions because you haven’t devoted enough time and attention to it,” Cochran says. “It needs to be an objective on the board, with clear goals and a time frame to it.”

Cochran decided he wanted an adviser who would come to his cabinets, appliances and countertops distribution company and explain the benefits package to his 32 employees and discuss with them their goals and objectives.

He found his answer in financial planner Dennis P. Barba Jr. of The Oxford Group of Raymond James & Associates Inc., whom he settled on after reading several books by him. He says that you need to do your research before you choose an adviser and not just choose the first one you come across.

“You want somebody who’s been in the business for at least 10 years and has been with the same organization for that kind of time, definitely not somebody who’s bounced around,” Cochran says.

Cochran says you may need to interview several candidates before finding a financial planner with whom you are comfortable.

“That’s something that’s got to be done on an individual basis,” he says. “A good personal connection with the people you’ll be dealing with and definitely feeling confident that they’re earning the money that you’re paying.”

Cochran says you need to make sure a financial planner’s goals and objectives match your own by explaining what you’re looking for and asking that person to show you how he or she thinks those goals can be achieved. Then it’s up to you to decide whether you are able to work with that person.

A critical component of making that choice is ensuring that the financial planner will communicate the benefits plan to employees.

“It was just a matter of keeping everybody in the loop and interacting with them,” Cochran says. “The crucial thing at the end of the day was the personal interaction and not bombarding them with a lot of forms and printed materials to try and read and sort through.

“That’s what helped drive more inclusion in it. It was not left up to me to try to explain the plan because I’m not qualified to do that.”

As a result of putting together a financial plan and better defining the benefits program, Cochran says he’s gotten nearly 100 percent participation from his employees.

“In a competitive marketplace for good people, you’ve got to be offering good benefits and programs for your employees,” Cochran says.

HOW TO REACH: Warehouse Cabinets Inc., (440) 717-9500 or www.warehousecabinets.com

Commitment to execute

Putting together a good financial plan requires a lot of time and effort from both the business owner and the financial planner, says Dennis P. Barba Jr., managing partner of The Oxford Group of Raymond James & Associates Inc. A financial plan includes several different parts, and creating an employee benefits plan is just one piece of the puzzle.

Barba says you also need to clearly define what you’re trying to accomplish with your plan and run through different assumptions regarding retirement and not just rely on basic financial planning principles that had been used in the past.

“It’s not that simple,” he says. “If you’re just basing things on what has happened in the past and assume you’re going to earn a given rate of return, it doesn’t always work out that way. Work with somebody who can perform a lot of different mathematical analysis on your assumptions to make sure that under different scenarios you still feel like you have a high likelihood of success.”

Putting together a successful benefits package also requires commitment.

“You have to make the commitment to do the planning work,” he says. “If you’re not committed, you’re not going to go through the process.”

“If you’re going to spend the time and/or money to do it, it only makes sense that you follow through and execute what you put in the document.”

HOW TO REACH: The Oxford Group of Raymond James & Associates Inc., (216) 241-1920 or www.oxfordgrouponline.com