Gina Schaefer, Wittenberg class of 1993, and husband Marc Friedman have found a way to thank all of their employees – by selling their company to them.
Schaefer and Friedman, owners of A Few Cool Hardware Stores (AFCHS), a group of 13 stores located in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, metro areas, recently announced their plan to sell ownership of their company through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). AFCHS is a member of Ace Hardware, the largest retailer-owned hardware purchasing cooperative in the United States.
A member of Wittenberg’s Having Light Campaign steering committee, Schaefer will transfer ownership of the organization over the next several years through the ESOP’s trust under the name “The Cool Hardware Company,” with an upfront transfer of 30 percent of the company’s ownership having already taken place on Aug. 1, 2021, to their 250-plus employees.
“The ESOP model allows us to give back to the employees who have done so much for our company, while still aligning with the culture we’re proud to have built over the last 20 years of business,” Schaefer said.
With 14 million employee owners across 7,000 companies nationally, ESOPs offer employees stake in a company through a stock allocation that accrues value over time, much like a 401(K) plan. The amount of stock distributed is determined by the number of employees receiving shares and each employee’s individual salaries – all at no cost to the employee. The benefits of this transition from privately-owned to employee-owned include increased staff engagement in the decision-making processes, personal wealth building, and an active investment in the success and health of the business.
Founded in 2003, Schaefer and her husband built A Few Cool Hardware Stores from the connections forged in their local community. They believe in the power of customer service and strive to be the most helpful hardware stores on the planet.
A passionate entrepreneur who grew her company from one to 11 stores in a 12-year period, Schaefer, along with her husband, leads a multi-million-dollar small business. She has received numerous awards for her accomplishments, including the Women Who Mean Business Award from the Washington Business Journal and being named an industry Top Gun by the National Retail Hardware Association. Honored by Profiles in Diversity Journal as one of its Women Worth Watching, she has also been recognized by Hardware and Building Supply Dealer as one of 14 "People of the Year." Additionally, she serves on the Corporate Board of CCA Global and the nonprofit boards of House of Ruth and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
During her time at Wittenberg, service was very important to her and still is.
“I worked in the community service program and not only did I track and help students meet their service requirement, but I did a lot of community service myself, including organizing some campus-wide events,” she said. “I loved everything about my time at Wittenberg – from my Spanish classes, to the freedom of not living with my parents, working in the Community Service Workshop, and making friends from all over the country and the world.”