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Top 100 dealers retain employees through retirement savings

By Brianna Liestman

When it comes to finding and keeping good employees, Top 100 dealers are the businesses that just get it. They are willing to make investments that keep their employees happy, show they value their teams and provide the means for those individuals to have a life outside their job.

Providing a retirement savings plan is a key component to achieving this goal. And while not everyone was able to keep these plans during the last recession, many have made a concerted effort to bring them back in full force now that the business is returning to profitability. 

Guaranteed contributions

Clemons Boats in Sandusky, Ohio, provides retirement savings to employees through a Safe Harbor 401(k) plan, which was implemented in 2015. It is a guaranteed contribution to the employee, which means the company is required to give it each year to those who qualify. Those employees include anyone who has been on the payroll for one year.

The dealership gives 3 percent of pay contribution, and if the business’s annual goals are achieved, owners will add to it. In 2016, Clemons Boats ended up contributing 5 percent for qualifying employees.

“We feel like we need to invest in our employees’ future just as much as they do. We do not have a dealership and cannot serve any customers without our employees,” said Jason Clemons, owner of Clemons Boats. “We want them to have a good job, enjoy it and ensure they have a future after they leave.”

The dealership had many different plans over the years – profit sharing, bonus programs and regular retirement plans – but chose a Safe Harbor plan to be sure employees were guaranteed a contribution each year. Like many businesses in the industry, the retirement plan was not available during the last downturn due to affordability reasons, but as soon as the business could support it again it returned.

“It shows that you indeed care about your employees’ future. In order to have engaged employees, there needs to be a mutual caring involved,” said Clemons. 

Action Water Sports (Photo credit: JMH Photography)

Action Water Sports in Hudsonville, Mich., also has a Safe Harbor plan, with a 3 percent employer contribution made on behalf of all eligible employees, regardless of whether they make any elective deferrals. An employee can withdraw money from the plan in the event of an immediate and heavy financial need or if they have attained age 59.5. This plan stayed in place through the last recession and this year a Roth option became available, which Action Water Sports now offers.

“The plan was established with eligibility requirements, which have remained the same throughout the years,” said Owner Jerry Brouwer. “Each year we review with our adviser the fund performances and update funds per those recommendations. … Our decision to sponsor this plan was to provide our employees with a long-term retirement savings option regardless of their personal deferrals to the plan.”

Improving morale through investments

Gage Marine in Williams Bay, Wis., has offered a comprehensive 401(k) by Morgan Stanley for its employees for over 25 years. Employees have access to this plan after one year of employment at the dealership, must be at least 21 years of age and have at least 1,000 hours of service. The dealership offers a quarterly enrollment option. 

Gage Marine matches 20 to 40 percent of the first 6 percent of employee contributions, and that match was upheld during the last recession.

“I believe that keeping at least some match was truly about putting your money where your mouth is. Staff have really appreciated more investment choices and many years I get a specific thank you from staff for the matching funds,” said Owner Bill Gage. 

Superior Boat Repair and Sales in Rancho Cordova, Calif., offers a similar plan, beginning in 2015. The dealership matches up to 4 percent the employee’s earnings and has added profit sharing on top of contributions as the economy has continued to improve. Owners also encourage employees to meet with the business’s personal financial planner to put into place a personal plan for retirement.

 “We create a nice card for each employee with the dollar amount of the match and amount of the profit sharing,” said Bob Bense, owner of Superior Boat Repair and Sales. “This is one of several morale boosts throughout the year that hopefully shows each employee that we care about them.”

Top 100 dealers believe offering a 401(k) program, with matching contribution, is a vital benefit for the business when trying to ensure the company is able to hire and keep quality employees in the long term. 

“It is part of a broad commitment to excellence and investment in our staff,” said Gage. 

“In order to attract and retain our employees, we feel this is a vital component of an employment package,” added Brouwer. “It shows in a tangible form to our employees that we are committed to them as an employer and rewarding their efforts.”   

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