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Mini-cast 106: Certified EO and Shopping EO

Bret Keisling is joined by Vince Kruse of USA Mortgage to discuss Certified EO and spending our consumer dollars with EO companies. Employee Ownership Month shout outs to: Best Friends Pet Hotels, Once Again Nut Butter, Gardener's Supply, and USA Mortgage.


Mini-cast 106 Transcript

Bret Keisling: 00:04 Welcome to the ESOP Mini-cast. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. Happy Employee Ownership Month! Thank you to everyone who's listening for whatever you do to help grow the EO sandbox, whether you're an employee, owner, a practitioner, or a passionate advocate, everything you do is an important part of what so many of us are trying to do, grow employee ownership and spread it to the masses.

Bret Keisling: 00:35 In today's episode, I'm going to give shout outs to Certified EO and four amazing employee owned companies, including USA Mortgage, Once Again Nut Butter, Gardener's Supply, and the Best Friends Pet Hotels.

Bret Keisling: 00:49 Certified EO was formed in 2016. It's supported by 144 member employee owned companies as of when we're recording this. As its name implies, they certify that a company is employee owned, but their work extends far beyond that. They provide training, education, and motivation to its member companies. A few weeks ago, I gave a shout out to Threaded Fasteners for Employee Ownership Month. I complimented them because they had a big employee owned logo at the top of their website homepage. I didn't realize it at the time, but it's actually the Certified EO logo. And my new friend Hali at Threaded Fasteners tells me that Certified EO is an important part of building that company's employee ownership culture.

Bret Keisling: 01:34 On Certified EO's website, they have a link to a "Shop EO" function. This lets you search for companies either by industry, product line, or geographically. The search engine is a great way to find EO companies, although the results are limited to Certified EO member companies.

Bret Keisling: 01:52 I'm impressed with the wide gamut of employee owned companies that are represented. So today the company shout outs that I'm giving are all members of Certified EO and I'm happy that we've had past podcasts with employee owners from three of the companies. You can find those past podcasts, as well as all of our archived episodes, at

Bret Keisling: 02:11 But before we get to those companies, I want to give a happy Employee Ownership Month shout out and thank you to all of the talented team members at Certified EO. You're doing a very important part to enhance and create employee ownership and it's appreciated and I want to thank you.

Bret Keisling: 02:34 Besides being members of Certified EO, there's something else in common that all of our company shout outs have. We as employee owner consumers can all do business with them very easily. The companies again are the Best Friends Pet Hotels, Gardener's Supply, Once Again Nut Butter, and USA Mortgage. And it's my pleasure to be joined on the podcast by one of the great passionate employee owners at USA Mortgage, our friend Vince Kruse. Vince! How are you?

Vince Kruse: 03:08 Hey, I'm good. How are you doing?

Bret Keisling: 03:09 Good. Thank you so much for taking the time to join me today. And let me start off by saying happy Employee Ownership Month to you and all your great team members and employee owners at USA Mortgage.

Vince Kruse: 03:22 Yeah, thank you. We've been having a fun month. It's almost over here, but there's been a lot of fun throughout the month.

Bret Keisling: 03:29 So give us a sense of some of the things that you're doing for Employee Ownership Month.

Vince Kruse: 03:33 It is definitely we kind of, just with the business cycle being as busy as it is, we've kind of reused/recycled some of the prior things, but we've had a lot of growth in the company. So a lot of it's still new to a lot of people. We kind of kicked off the month with a challenge, we did a a crossword puzzle, we've done a word search, some basic things just to help direct people towards some of the common vocabulary. Being an ESOP it's not a given that people will know some of the things that have to do with it, unless they've geeked out about it like, you know, some of us on our committee have done, or if they're the CFO, there's not that many people that really know the rest of the insides of the program of the of our plan.

Vince Kruse: 04:20 So we just kind of started there, introduce ourselves back to the rest of the company. We've got a group of seven, seven ambassadors we call ourselves just kind of went from there, had some prizes given out. This year, the prizes were actually a little bit different than in years past; it was a COVID care package, since that's a little more timely. We've got USA Mortgage branded face masks. We've got those little touchless key rings where you can like open a door, push a button, or, you know, do whatever without touching with your actual skin. T-shirts stuff like that kind of basic stuff there, but also some of our own company, branded cups and socks and whatever else.

Bret Keisling: 05:05 Just a moment --and the theme is where consumers, employee ownership consumers can spend their dollars. And we want to be a little bit careful here, Vince, we're talking just broadly that USA Mortgages is a employee owned company. We don't want you to say anything that's going to suddenly get us, you know, are we trying to sell mortgages? That's not what we're doing. But the fact of the matter is in an unfortunate reality, the mortgage business generally has done really, really well during the pandemic and USA Mortgage as well. And you and I have chatted number of times over the last six months, you don't take any pleasure in that, but you guys are working your tails off right now! Am I right?

Vince Kruse: 05:44 Yes. Yeah, this is record-setting month after month after month, which -- not bragging, it just kind of is what it is. Like every mortgage company is -- I've got friends at other places -- and we're all in the same trenches. We've said the phrase, it's a good problem to have, more than we can count at this point. It's just kind of a matter of how busy you want to keep yourself and how much time are you willing to commit to it because it's just, there's more than enough work to go around.

Bret Keisling: 06:14 You guys are going gangbusters. And unlike your colleagues in the mortgage industry, generally, you guys are going gangbusters as employee owners. So, Vince here's the premise of today's episode. We as employee owners, as consumers, can spend our money more wisely, more mindfully. And in USA Mortgage's case, you folks are licensed to do business in just about all 50 States. There are a couple that you're still working on. You and your own team cover 20 states. So Vince, anybody who's listening, who wants to look at refinancing wants to look at mortgages, then they would be well-served if they want to work with an employee owned company, they can reach out to you. And if it's not in one of the states you're operating you'll, you'll transfer them to another employee on contact.

Bret Keisling: 07:01 But could you imagine, Vince, with 3 million employee owners in the United States, active employee owners, could you imagine the impact if we started directing our money? So hopefully someone will reach out to USA Mortgage.

Vince Kruse: 07:14 Yeah, absolutely. Just like you said, my own team is licensed in a few dozen states, but in the states that we are not licensed, then I, you know, we have a company directory, I can easily find somebody else that is licensed in the state that somebody else has owned the property in or trying to purchase in, whatever it might be. We can find somebody from within the company that is an employee owner that could do the exact same thing, help them out and keep the business with an employee owned company with an employee owner.

Bret Keisling: 07:43 That is great. And I really hope that we all start thinking in terms of that. Talk to me about Certified EO. You're a member company, so just tell me a little bit about what you've gotten out of Certified EO.

Vince Kruse: 07:55 Absolutely. they've been a huge asset. We just signed up with them, I want to say at the beginning of this year, it's been fairly recent. But the content library that they offer is massive. There's tons of information, it's editable, you can, you know, go in and kind of put your own stuff on it. One of the really cool things that you get like a liaison with them, kind of like your own account manager that you can schedule a call with. You can email at your leisure, you can do whatever. From what I've seen there's no issues with getting any contact to or from them and getting a communication plan to help create your own company personalized content if you want to use it more than just what they provide through their library. There's articles there have been -- I mean, anything in the news that's employee owner related, they have links to it -- there's webinars. There's just, I mean, I haven't gotten to the bottom of the well, if there is one, for the content they have. There's everything from handouts that you can print out and just hand, you know, send out as an email to employees, there's entry-level, intro information all the way down to the, you know, kind of more in the weeds topics, stuff like that, about employee ownership. For any, especially any newer companies that have just gone employee owner, or if they're just kind of just getting into building the culture and building, you know, finally building the culture if it's a company that has been an employee owned company for years, from what we've seen, it's worth, you know, jumping into it kind head first and just letting them show you what they can do to help guide the conversation, to steer the conversation, to reach everybody from top to bottom within the organization.

Bret Keisling: 09:45 Let's turn you from the mortgage guy at USA Mortgage, and you're also a consumer. So the other three companies that I want to give shout outs today, I'm just going to tell you a little bit about them. And I suspect you'll agree, great places for us to spend money. The companies are Gardener's Supply, Once Again Nut Butter, and the Best Friends Pet Hotels.

Gardener's Supply Company

Bret Keisling: 10:05 Now Gardener's Supply, Vince, you may know Cindy Turcot was president of The ESOP Association board. She's I believe now chairperson of the EO Foundation and Cindy is as passionate about employee ownership as can be, but so's all the folks at Gardner's Supply. Like their name suggests they cover everything that a gardener could use from small tools, big tools, seeds, flowers, et cetera, et cetera. They got their start nationally, became nationally prominent as a mail order house, which these days, you

know, with catalogs and that sort of thing these days, that simply means online sales. And they also have a few really cool retail locations. I know in Vermont, maybe in one or two of the other surrounding states as well. But Gardener's Supply, I don't know if you and your wife do any gardening, Vince, but here's a great way for employee owners to support a great employee owned company.

Vince Kruse: 11:01 Yeah, just from kind of traipsing through their website they've been employed owned much longer than us. And it is a lot cooler to look at -- as an employee owner, it's a lot cooler to look at some of these employee owned companies as somewhere to spend our dollars. If we're going to be buying, you know, whatever it is that they sell, I'd rather have it directed to another place where I know it's employee owned profits.

Bret Keisling: 11:26 So happy EOM month to all of the great employee owners at Gardner's Supply. Vince, you got a couple of kids. You guys eat peanut butter, nut butters, any of that stuff?

Vince Kruse: 11:36 Well, we actually patronize all of the different butters! Half my family, wife and kids, are allergic to peanuts. The other half are not so along with me. So we have nut spreads of all different types.

Bret Keisling: 11:50 Once Again Nut Butter is a really cool employee owned company. Larry Filipski has been on a past podcast. The cool thing about Larry and his podcast, Larry was actually in management in construction, I believe. When Larry found himself looking to change careers, what drove him was he wanted to work for an employee owned company. The other cool thing about Once Again Nut Butter is a lot of their folks attend the ESOP Association or NCEO conferences either regionally or nationally. And I've actually spent some time with the factory line workers who make the peanut butter and to hear them talk about the passion of their products, as well as the passion of employee ownership, is just always fun for me. So Vince, let me suggest as, as you folks are looking to shop for your house, Once Again Nut Butter first of all, it is a number of retail establishments, on their website you can find out where. They also have mail order. But it's peanut butter, it's nut butter, it's hazelnut, it is -- they have tahini! A variety of spreads. It's all organic, all very natural, and it's employee owned. So you and I both want to give happy Employee Ownership Month, shout out, thanks and congratulations to the great employee owners of Once Again Nut Butter. And just a really cool company to have in the EO sandbox.

Vince Kruse: 13:12 Yeah, I'm actually looking at their website right now and I may be placing an online order when we're done!

Bret Keisling: 13:18 See that! We're going to, we're going to increase consumerism one at a time. Now, Vince, I happened to know you and I are Facebook friends, and I happen to know that you were traveling last week. And I don't know if you have pets, but Best Friends Pet Hotel.

They have, I think, about two dozen, maybe a few more, locations around the country. I know they have a big one down in Orlando, near the Disney properties. A lot of my friends in employee ownership have pets. Funny thing is being a pet lover and being into employee ownership, kind of the same emotional traits. So I think it would be great. And I travel all the time, I don't have a pet, but boy, if I could go to a hotel that's employee owned and spend my dollars there, I think that would be really cool. Do you have any pets?

Vince Kruse: 14:03 We don't have any pets along with the nut allergy we've got some [laughing] dander allergies, but we love animals. And you know, as much as the sniffing and sneezing can handle them.

Bret Keisling: 14:15 So obviously staying there, isn't a good idea, but it also raises the point, Vince, that not all of us are going to be able to be consumers for every single product, whether it's nut butter, whether it's a pet hotel, some of us aren't gardeners,. You know, I live in a development, so I don't do any gardening. But where we can spend our dollars, boy, we would be so much better off if we did.

Vince Kruse: 14:36 Yeah.

Bret Keisling: 14:36 I'm going to include in our show notes, links to Certified EO, to USA Mortgage, to Once Again Nut Butter, Gardener's Supply, and the Best Friends Pet Hotel. So if people want to check -- although if you Google them, you'll find them. Vince, again, and you know, I'm sincere about this -- happy Employee Ownership Month! And thank you so much. And thank your colleagues. You guys are just a great success story generally, and a wonderful employee ownership success story. So thank you very much for everything that you're doing.

Vince Kruse: 15:05 My pleasure. Thanks for having me on again. It's always fun!

Bret Keisling: 15:05 My thanks to Vince Kruse for coming on the podcast. Folks, if you're listening, if you want to support employee ownership and employee owned companies, keep that in mind as you make consumer spending decisions.

Bret Keisling: 15:20 Our country is going through a lot right now together, and that's how we'll get through it, together -- which if you think about it is one of the hallmarks of employee ownership. Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret. Keisling have a great day.

Bitsy McCann: 15:39 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The ESOP Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


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