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Wednesday, November 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A floral foam company is paying it workers average holiday bonuses of $14,000

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 20, 2018

FloraCraft owner and Chairman Lee Schoenherr greets workers as he announces a bonus plan that will average more than $14,000 per worker. (Floracraft courtesy photo)
FloraCraft owner and Chairman Lee Schoenherr greets workers as he announces a bonus plan that will average more than $14,000 per worker. (Floracraft courtesy photo)
By Jean Mcgregor Washington Post

The average holiday bonus in 2017 – among workers who actually get them – was about $1,800, according to one survey of accountants. But a floral foam maker based in Ludington, Michigan, is making that number look almost Grinch-y, announcing a bonus that is likely to average more than $14,000 per worker.

FloraCraft, which manufactures, fabricates and markets foam products – those green or white blocks used in floral and craft projects – has told employees it would be paying out $4 million in bonuses. The move comes after a strong year for the business and a tax reform law that slashed corporate taxes. Also, said Lee Schoenherr, the company’s owner, it was inspired by his concerns about political changes in Washington.

FloraCraft’s bonus, which will be paid out 25 percent in cash and 75 percent through a 401(k) contribution over two years, comes at the end of a year that began with many businesses responding to the Trump tax bill with highly publicized announcements about one-time $1,000 bonuses.

Schoenherr, 83, who has led the company since 1973 and serves as chairman, said he wanted to do something more “meaningful.”

He had typically given an extra week’s pay as a holiday bonus to his workers. But Schoenherr had been thinking for years of making a substantial gift to workers as a way of saying thanks.

“I wanted to show some appreciation for the people who have worked for me and been responsible, to a great length, for the success of the company,” he said.

He decided the timing was right in 2018. The tax cut provided a cushion. The business was reaping the benefits of years of investing in research and development that allowed it to manufacture its own foam, rather than buy it externally, CEO Eric Erwin said. (The private, family-run business does not release financial numbers, but has annual revenue of $70 million.)

Meanwhile, a Pinterest-fueled D.I.Y. decor and crafting craze has boosted what Erwin calls the “creative products industry” in recent years. “We’ve been very happy with the way digital content has helped us,” inspiring consumers to be more creative with crafts and projects.

Schoenherr said he also began feeling a sense of “urgency” to make the bonus, concerned the environment for business might shift with Democrats taking the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. He said his company has benefited from President Trump’s policies, including the tax cut and the elimination of some regulations, though he was not able to name any specific regulatory changes during Trump’s term that has benefited his business.

“Things are good now. Who knows what the future is going to bring,” he said. Schoenherr recognized, too, that he wasn’t getting any younger. While he says he has no plans at all to retire, he thought “I better do this while I’m still alive,” he said.

Workers are only eligible for the bonus if they’re below top management, Erwin said — higher-level managers take part in an annual incentive program — and the only factor considered in paying out the bonus is tenure. Workers will receive the equivalent of about $120 a month of service; because the average tenure at the company is 10 years, that would result in an average payment of $14,400, Erwin said.

Laura Sejen, managing director of Willis Towers Watson’s Human Capital and Benefits practice, said such a bonus is unusually large for hourly paid manufacturing workers, but that it’s easier for Schoenherr to do it because of the size of his business and his controlling interest in it.

“These are things you can do fairly readily if you’re a small privately held company – your hands aren’t tied by shareholders or formal programs like they are if you’re, by contrast, a global conglomerate,” she said. “This is very unusual.”

Unusual, perhaps, but not unheard of. In 2015, for instance, Houston-based oil and gas firm Hilcorp paid out $100,000 bonus checks to employees, prorated based on time of service over the past five years, according to the Houston Chronicle. And in 2016, Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya said he would give all of his 2,000 full-time workers awards that could be worth up to 10 percent of the privately held company’s future value if it becomes public or is sold, with an estimated average employee payout of $150,000.

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