In mid-2015, Van Horn Automotive Group’s leaders discussed how to attract and retain talent, increase store count and keep family control of the business. They decided to become the first partially employee-owned car dealership group in Wisconsin, said COO Teresa Van Horn.

The group’s 400 full-time employees own 30 percent of the company as part of an employee stock ownership plan launched Dec. 31, 2015. “The ESOP really adds a personal touch in how your employees are treated and how your customers are treated,” said Van Horn. “We never want to become that faceless corporation.”

The ESOP quickly benefited the group in two areas: hiring and company growth. Van Horn was able to hire a top service technician by touting employee ownership. And the company bought Safro Ford in suburban Milwaukee, in a rare deal featuring a female dealer selling to another female dealer. The employee-ownership and a sisterly connection sealed the deal last September, said Van Horn. “She could have sold to anyone. Ford is a valuable franchise and it’s a store in a nice area, but it wasn’t just about the dollars,” said Van Horn.

Read more: Dealership group gains an edge from ESOP