Workers at Stewart’s Shops are riding a rising company stock price that has created dozens of new millionaires heading for retirement, at least on paper. Stock for the privately held company, which employs more than 4,500 people, has boomed this decade, rising 66 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to annual reports filed with the U.S. Labor Department.
Stewart’s workers, who own almost 40 percent of that stock through a company retirement program, have been riding high along with it. Stock that was valued at $152.40 a share in 2011 had increased to $253.21 by 2016, the most recent year that federal reports were available.
Now, there are 67 current or former long-time Stewart’s workers with retirement balances of more than $1 millon in the Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP), according to Stewart’s President Gary Dake. Nearly a third of these millionaires started out as hourly employees, and over a third are still working at their positions, he said. About 1,000 current or former workers have balances of more than $100,000, he added. The program is entirely company-paid, and costs workers nothing.
“We are very pleased to make this investment in our partners and have an average of six ESOP members per shop,” said Dake. “We are doing this when so many other retailers are trying to automate their employees out of contact with their customers by replacing them with electronic ordering, or self check-out.” The company has its headquarters in Malta and operates more than 335 shops in New York and southern Vermont.
Dake credited several factors for the company’s growth, including “broader food service, the value of being a retailer not significantly impacted by Amazon,” and last year’s changes to federal corporate tax rates.
The company stock price for 2017 has not yet been calculated, said company spokesman Jeff Vigliotta, although a Stewart’s press released touted “double digit growth” in the fund. The stock price is based on an independent appraisal of “account, historical and projected cash flow, and net income, return on assets, return on equity, market comparables, and estimated fair value of assets and liabilities.” Vigliotta declined to make any millionaire employees available to be interviewed, citing worker privacy.
At the end of 2016, the Stewart’s ESOP was worth more than $375 million, up from $233.7 million in 2011. Stock growth also means Stewart’s, which dates its founding to 1945 in Saratoga Springs, would be valued at more than $910 million based on its total stock, making it one of the most valuable companies in the Capital Region.
For comparison, TrustCo, a banking company based in Glenville, is valued at about $831 million, based on its current publicly traded stock price. AngioDynamics, a medical device maker headquartered in Latham, with its production facilities in Warren County, is worth about $700 million based on its stock price.
Global Partners, a petroluem company from Massachusetts that operates a petroleum terminal at the Port of Albany and has facilities elsewhere, is valued at about $576 million.
At Stewart’s, workers who log at least 1,000 hours a year and who are at least 19 years old become eligible for the program after two years, and receive a full benefit after six years. The plan accrues based on years of service and assumes a full retirement age of 62. The company buys the stock back when an employee retires. The current stock plan was formed in 2001, and replaced an earlier company profit-sharing plan that started in 1974. Stewart’s continues to hire and job openings can be found online at stewartsshops.com.