Retailer C&K Market Becomes 100% Employee-Owned

C&K Market, an independent chain of grocery stores in Oregon and California, completed a transaction to become 100% employee-owned through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) trust.

The ESOP trust enables employees to receive retirement benefits linked to the company’s future equity value.

“At our core, we’re a community grocery store that proudly serves its neighbors,” said Karl Wissmann, president and CEO of C&K Market. “We tailor what we offer to meet the needs of each community we serve. That commitment continues through our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which allows us to maintain our independence and lets employees benefit from our success.”

Founded in 1956, C&K Market started with one store in Brookings, OR. Today it has 38 stores in Oregon and northern California, operating under the banners of Ray’s Food Place, Shop Smart, and C&K Market.

In 2014, Karl Wissmann joined the grocery chain as its CEO and led its recent revitalization. Currently, more than 1,200 people work for the retailer, which is now employee-owned.

Related Article: Hispanic Partners Fight a Food Desert by Opening a Key Food Supermarket

Wissmann noted that the ESOP builds on C&K Market’s strengths: employees who go the extra mile for their customers, strong community connections, and a passion for continually improving and updating its stores and offerings.

Over the past six years, C&K Market remodeled 100% of the stores. New departments were launched, including Healthy Living, Pet Centers, and Foods of the World. Additionally, each store added about 2,500 new items.

“These accomplishments were often motivated by what employees heard from customers,” Wissmann said. “We strive to listen and deliver what our customers want. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and known that greater things are coming because our employees built such a strong foundation.”

Wissmann called C&K Markets “a chain of independent stores rather than an independent chain of stores.” He explained they serve a variety of communities, and each has unique needs. “We started an initiative some five years ago to give customers a reason to shop in our stores rather than a big box store,” Wissmann continued.

C&K Markets CEO affirms the ESOP trust the best possible succession plan for a company with strong local roots and dedicated employees.    

The management structure, policies, or operating practices are not subject to change. Store meetings will be held to introduce the plan during the first quarter with additional information provided throughout the year, the company said.

According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, there are 6,600 ESOPs in the United States, holding 1.4 trillion dollars and employing some 14 million people. They also typically provide 2.2 times the total retirement assets as non-ESOP companies.

A Rutgers study found that ESOP companies grow 2.3 to 2.4% faster after setting up an ESOP.