Paula Weeks says she has always had one simple goal for retirement – to have a little more time left than her hard-working parents did.
Paula’s parents ran a gas station, until her Dad suffered a massive heart attack, and then her mother worked in a nursing home and later a day care center. “My folks worked…until they weren’t able to work,” she said. Their efforts in the face of adversity were a powerful example, and so too were the implications of not being able to put aside enough to supplement Social Security. “It is nice to know that I won’t be in that position.”
That’s because of a considerable amount of savings that Paula has amassed though the ESOP at WinCo Foods, which operates 85 warehouse grocery stores in seven Western states. Shortly after she started working at WinCo’s Twin Falls, ID store in 1984, a majority interest in the company was purchased by its employees. While Paula’s 401(k) savings and her husband’s Independent Retirement Account have grown pretty slowly in recent years, WinCo’s ESOP has grown an average of 21.5% a year since 1985. “We’re really depending on it,” said Paula, who started in the seafood department but more recently has worked in the meat department.
Noelia Gracia, a 24-year veteran of WinCo’s Nampa, Idaho store, says she has been astounded by the gains in her ESOP account over the years. She is now the manager of the store’s non-food variety department, including pharmacy items and toys, but when she started as a clerk, she said she had hardly given a thought to retirement.
Back then Noelia’s son and daughter had just started elementary school, and Noelia said she was focused on helping make ends meet. Now they are grown – her son is working for a local RV manufacturer, and her daughter is a mom herself. As they turn to building families and careers, Noelia says she is pleased that her own financial security will make their lives a little simpler.
In addition to the financial benefits for themselves, Paula and Noelia believe that employee ownership makes WinCo a better company. “People pay attention more to what they’re doing, and what other people are doing,” said Paula. “We joke about it and say ‘make sure that isn’t coming out of the ESOP,’ but I think people really are more careful not to waste supplies.” Noelia says that she’s noticed that employee ownership has given WinCo an edge over competitors in hiring and keeping employees. “More (prospective employees) mention it in interviews, so I think word has gotten around,” she said.