All in the family Featured

8:00pm EDT June 29, 2006
Michael Plummer learned all about marketing when he bought into a little pizza shop in Iowa nearly 35 years ago.

Today, he’s parlayed that experience into a company that helps businesses across the country flourish by catering to new families just moving in.

Plummer is the founder of Our Town Inc., which works with established local businesses to welcome new families to an area by providing them with $300 to $500 worth of coupons for free products and services.

“I don’t care how much you advertise,” Plummer says. “The most important part of a retail business is getting someone to come in and experience your service. If it’s good enough, they’re coming back.”

Plummer began franchising Our Town last year, and his 30 franchises produce $25 million in annual revenue. He plans to add 30 more franchises this year and is projecting more than 400 within the next six years.

Smart Business spoke with Plummer about how he keeps employees happy while building a prosperous business.

How do you attract and retain top-notch employees?
We believe everyone — from our lowest employee who does the most menial task, to our CEO — should be treated with respect. We respect our employees to such a degree, we provide benefits that truly are not normal.

We provide employees with $200 a month toward health insurance, which covers 90 percent of people’s full insurance. We pay more than scale. We allow our people to participate in our growth by many having compensation bonuses based on growth.

We have a gourmet chef, and we provide a free lunch every day and a hot meal on Fridays because we want them eating nutritious foods. We don’t want them eating fast food. It’s poor for performance and it’s poor for their health, so we provide nutritious meals and deli sandwiches.

We shut down for four days every year and take all of our employees on a cruise, where we pay 100 percent of the employees’ costs and we subsidize their partner so they only pay $150 for both of them to go on a cruise. And they’re compensated for that time; it doesn’t count against their vacation time.

Every Tuesday, a neuromuscular masseur comes in and he gives each person a 20-minute massage. It usually takes him about three weeks to work through everybody.

After one year of employment, our employees are allowed to contribute 3 percent to a 401(k), and we match it. We do as much as we can to let them know how important they are.

Every business should do that. The result is we rarely lose employees.

How do you ensure you get the best quality people when you’re adding them so quickly?
We do multiple interviews and we employ a simple profile test that takes about 20 minutes to fill out. It tells you, here is what this person is really good at and if you hire them, here is what you need to manage them with and here are ways to effectively get this person more into your system.

I’ve found it to be incredibly accurate. When we’ve hired people off that, the things it said they would need help with, they did need help with. And the way they suggested we treat them to compensate for that seemed to work.

It’s multiple interviews with people who see things differently. Usually it’s three people — obviously the manager they report to, and then two others who would look at things from another perspective.

For any business, a bad hire is the worst thing you could have. It creates more work and it puts stress on the relationships; the employee is not happy and certainly the employer is not happy. And then termination is just a miserable thing for everybody.

How do you maintain a cohesive company culture?
Through making sure we don’t forget where we came from and always being accessible to everyone. Our employees know there is no one too big to do anything. Somebody spilled something on the carpet out front, and I went to clean it.

Everyone here is equal, and that’s very important. We read surveys to them from the families who send them in because they don’t know. When you’re sending out 9 million packets, you think you’re a production facility. But that’s not what they are.

So we explain to them that they’re helping these families. The best way is to keep grounded. There is no one too pious or pompous to go out on the production floor and do the things that they do.

We’re all equal, and that goes a long way to making people feel they’re part of a tight-knit group. And we are. Our employees are happy to be here.

HOW TO REACH: Our Town Inc., www.ourtownamerica.com