Seaon 2, Episode 8: Building Community: How A Few Cool Hardware Stores Transitioned to Employee Ownership

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Summary

Sometimes companies transition to employee ownership to help spark a transformation in workplace culture, in other cases a move to employee ownership is the continuation or next logical step in a vibrant company culture that already exists. A Few Cool Hardware Stores is firmly in the latter category. In this episode we speak with selling and co-owner Gina Schaefer and a new employee-owner Courtney Belew about what transitioning to employee ownership was like for both a business owner and an employee, the importance of community engagement, and the benefits of building a strong workplace culture.

Guest Bios

Schaefer is founder, CEO, and co-owner of a chain of Ace Hardware stores located in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, and Alexandria, VA. She is a passionate entrepreneur who grew her company from one to 12 stores in only 14 years and now leads a multimillion-dollar business that employs more than 250 people. As a former member of the Ace Hardware Corporation Board of Directors, she is dedicated to maintaining a strong corporate culture. Schaefer's big passion is for developing urban markets, supporting small businesses and helping women to succeed in all aspects of the hardware industry. She has tirelessly focused on the "Return to Main Street" movement in her own city of Washington, D.C., to promote Shop Local campaigns and community revitalization in urban areas.

Courtney Belew is senior manager of marketing and community engagement at A Few Cool Hardware Stores, connecting the company's thirteen locations with the communities they serve through outreach, events, philanthropy, and advocacy. Courtney serves on three nonprofit boards, receiving an honor as a "Rising Star" in the Baltimore Business Journal in 2019. She is a Certified Master Naturalist through the University of Maryland Extension program with a B.A. in Environmental Issues at New College of Florida, the state's public honors college. She resides in Baltimore City with her husband and 2yr old daughter.

SPONSOR

Prairie Capital Advisors, itself an ESOP company, provides a full suite of services to middle-market companies, with a focus on ESOPs. Services include ESOP Sell-side and Trust-side advisory services, ESOP valuations, M&A, sustainability and Mature ESOP consulting.

About the Podcast

The Owners at Work Podcast is a continuation of the biannual Owners at Work Newsletter which ran for 19 years (1990-2019). We are hoping to continue the same conversations and focus on providing updates on everything employee ownership. We plan to interview practitioners with expertise in different facets of employee ownership, academics doing new and interesting research, and most importantly, individuals who have a personal experience with employee ownership, including current and former employee-owners, mid-level to C suite management, and selling owners.

We Want to talk to YOU!

We want to produce a show that engages with relevant questions and provides practical lessons and information. We want this podcast to include the voices of those who practice employee-ownership each and every day. To that end we want to hear from you! We want to highlight what you are doing, whether you are an employee-owned company, a practitioner, or researcher.

***Please reach out via email: oeoc@kent.edu

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