WG&R Furniture Joins Growing List of Employee-Owned Furniture Companies

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin – One of Northeast Wisconsin’s largest furniture and bedding retailers has handed over ownership to its employees after 75 years of family business.

WG&R Furniture, which employs 280 workers and has showrooms statewide, has switched to an employee stock ownership plan or ESOP. CEO Jim Greene will still act as CEO but will be an equal owner under the model.

Greene told the Green Bay Press Gazette that he preferred to give ownership to the employees rather than sell the business to a private equity firm or competitor. Greene, a third-generation owner since 2000, said it was important to him that the culture of the company didn’t change and that the company stayed in Green Bay.

ESOP models have gained momentum in recent years, including in the furniture industry. Whitewood Furniture, Kentwood Office Furniture, Norwalk Furniture and KI Furniture from Wisconsin – one of the largest employee-owned companies in the country – have all recently made the transition.

ESOPs provide beneficial tax incentives, such as a low corporate tax, on the sale. And as Greene said, the company remains independent and culturally distinct. Employees are likely to feel more engaged because there is more incentive for them to care about the good performance of the business.

Sometimes, however, ESOP models can be complicated and expensive, especially for a small business. Owners also need to balance employee trust with a higher level of responsibility.

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