ESOP is more than a structure at Vermeer Great Plains

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Taking Care of Business – by Lynn Grooms

The first letter in each of the Vermeer Great Plains dealership’s core values, spells ESOP.

  • Exceptional service
  • Stewardship and integrity
  • Ownership mentality
  • Profit focus

That’s not a coincidence, says Scott Ryals, president, Vermeer Great Plains. The road to success is living those values, he said. It’s also understanding the company’s mission statement “to deliver specialty products and exceptional service with a focus on customer productivity and profit.”

Scott Ryals, President, Vermeer Great Plains

ESOP takes shape

In April 2017, Art Swank, the company’s former president, decided to retire, sell the company to his employees and create an Employee Stock Ownership Plan – ESOP. The company is now 100 percent employee-owned and employees benefit when the company grows, Ryals says. They gain shares in the company every year they meet the ESOP eligibility requirements, which can be an attractive retirement benefit.

“Employees can then sell their shares back to the company when they retire,” Ryals said.

The company uses a communication committee – volunteer employees at each store who help explain to team members how ESOPs work. The company has recently invested in a video that helps employees better understand how the ESOP can benefit them.

Vermeer Great Plains created the ESOP with assistance from Lance Formwalt, an attorney with Seigfreid Bingham of Kansas City, Mo. Seigfreid Bingham has worked for decades with equipment dealer associations, such as the Western Equipment Dealers Association.

Formwalt has written about ESOPs, a form of retirement plan recognized by the Internal Revenue Service. An ESOP can serve as a powerful succession-planning tool, he says.

“An ESOP works as a succession-planning tool by buying the owner’s stock in the dealership with proceeds from a bank loan, owner-financing or a combination of both,” he has written. “The ESOP can acquire all of the dealership’s stock, purchase the stock of only certain owners, or buy stock over time. This can provide a lot of flexibility.”

Vermeer Great Plains also consulted on accounting matters with Curt Kleoppel, a certified public accountant and president of Equipment Dealer Consulting, LLC (www.eqdealerconsulting.com), a WEDA partner that provides financial services to dealers.

Kleoppel also serves as treasurer of the Western Equipment Dealers Association.

Vermeer Great Plains’s former president, Art Swank, was a long-time member of WEDA and the dealership continues to be a member of the association today. Vermeer Great Plains also is a member of the North American Vermeer Dealers Association, a group of 19 Vermeer dealers of which Art Swank was a founding member. WEDA also manages that organization. 

With five locations in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, Vermeer Great Plains sells and services Vermeer industrial equipment. That equipment is used for underground construction, surface mining, tree care and other environmental applications.

ESOP is more than a structure

Parts salesman Brian Williams checks parts inventory, while Melodie Isabell (pink shirt) helps customer Bryan Benne.

The ESOP is one of the tools the dealer uses to recruit and retain employees. “We also keep our name on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms,” Ryals says.

By sharing the dealership’s core values and mission on social media, management hopes to attract good job candidates who are doing their research, Ryals says.

“New hires are provided onboarding experiences that help get new employees up to speed faster with our culture and expectations,” he says. “We spend time talking with them, explaining what Vermeer Great Plains is, how we interact with manufacturing, and the different functions of our company.”

A good company culture, truly caring about and treating people with respect, and fair pay go far in terms of retaining employees, Ryals says.

“We care about their success in the business,” Ryals says. “Hopefully they’ll understand we’re trying to help them be their best.”

Training and growth

The beautiful foyer at Vermeer Great Plains. Dealership employees shown are Brian Williams, parts, and Karen O’Keefe-Lingenfelter.

The dealership provides various outside training programs to help employees. Employees have participated in various training programs offered by the Association of Equipment Dealers and WEDA. Technicians also receive regular training through Vermeer Corporate for specific types of equipment. 

Business growth is one of the dealership’s top goals for the future. “But first we want our employees to understand the ESOP culture,” Ryals says.

That’s where the “o” in ESOP – ownership mentality – shines. When people understand that they “own” their future, the “p” – profit focus – comes naturally. That’s good for both employee-owners and Vermeer Great Plains. 

Technician Paul Lichtenauer works on the filter of a Vermeer RTX1250 plow.

Dealer Profile

  • Vermeer Great Plains
  • Established: 1964
  • Locations: 5 – Goddard and Olathe in Kansas; Brookine, Missouri; and Catoosa and Oklahoma City in Oklahoma
  • Owners: 100% employee-owned/Employee Stock Ownership Plan – ESOP
  • Employees: 82
  • Major lines: Vermeer industrial equipment
  • Website: https://www.vermeergp.com/

Article written by Lynn Grooms 

LYNN GROOMS  is an agricultural journalist living in Mt. Horeb, WI

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