‘Seeding Success’: Fostering healthy businesses, increasing access

(Provided image/Oscar Romero)

This is the fourth of a series of seven stories featured ahead of the seventh annual NCW Community Success Summit, which IRIS (Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship) is convening in Quincy on Nov. 15. This year’s event, “Seeding Success, Growing ONE Community,” will celebrate stories about our environment, community, and economy that are helping to connect and strengthen our region. Each story will focus on one of seven different themes IRIS is using to highlight successes. For more information about the summit, to register, sample more stories and submit a story, visit www.irisncw.org.

Provided photoPlaza Super Jet in Wenatchee.

Plaza Super Jet in Wenatchee. (Provided photo)

People Matter at Plaza Super Jet

Contact: Jeff Lau

What is the situation?  

Fifteen years ago, David Johnson and I purchased the Plaza Super Jet in downtown Wenatchee. While store sales were strong, the facility was worn and the equipment dated. Employees were not maintaining the workplace and absenteeism was high. Sixty-five percent of the 26 employees working at the end of 2001 had started their employment within the past year. During 2002, 46 terminations occurred. Our workforce was predominantly part-time and transient.

What is the challenge? 

David and I began looking for a solution to our employment issues. How could we motivate employees to follow the weekly schedule and do a good job while at work? Was there a way to develop pride in those working for the Plaza? How could we get people to work as a team? We settled on the following strategy to meet the challenge: 1) Raise and maintain starting pay above the Washington State minimum wage, 2) Establish a bonus system that would drive pay toward a living wage, and 3) Adopt benefits programs that are valued by employees. Initially, we were only able to start people just ahead of minimum wage. Rapid merit raises helped to retain valued team members. By the end of 2008, our starting rate was 40 cents ahead of minimum wage. We continued to increase our starting wage to our current starting rate of $13.50 per hour — $4.00 per hour above the current minimum wage.

What are key activities? 

In addition to merit raises, we suggested employees give themselves a raise. We offered to pay an additional 25 cents per hour to those who made all of their scheduled shifts during a two-week pay period. Twice a year we would match the bonus paid. As we recognized the success of this system, the rate increased to one dollar per hour with a six month match. Additionally, we have two other incentive programs that can increase pay by an additional two dollars per hour. New hires now have the opportunity to apply themselves and earn between $13.50 and $17.50 per hour. Those who consistently earn one or all of the additional dollars are the first to get merit raises.

In 2001, our medical benefit offered very limited optical and dental coverage. Rates were high and healthy employees saw little benefit in the coverage. In 2009, we increased the deductible to $500 and began depositing $500 per year into a Health Reimbursement Plan (HRA). If the money was needed to pay deductibles, the deposit offset the increased deductible. Those who previously saw no benefit due to their good health are now able to purchase glasses, access dental care, and pay for family members medical expenses with the HRA fund. Beyond medical, a matching retirement program and an additional week of vacation — for a total of three weeks — were added to our benefits package.

What is the successful outcome?  

Over the past few years, the Plaza Super Jet is often complimented by our customers as a clean, well-stocked grocery store with very courteous employees. The majority of our turnover occurs with employees who have less than one year of employment. Sixty-five percent of our team has worked with us for over five years!

Jeff Lau may be reached at psj@plazasuperjet.com.