When Rick Dubrow and Cindi Landreth began pondering passing their business on to someone else, they were not excited about selling it to strangers. They feel much better turning it over to the people who have created much of the wealth in the business.
In July A-1 Builders Inc. will officially become A-1 Builders, a worker-owned cooperative. The company will be operated by five initial owner-members, with more employees expected to come on board as members in the next two years. The company currently has around 20 employees and includes Adaptations Design Studio. Dubrow and Landreth will take a less active role in the company as they transition.
A worker cooperative ownership format is becoming an attractive succession-plan option, particularly for well-established local businesses where the owner is ready for retirement and doesn’t have family members who want to take over. After the owner, it is usually the longtime employees that understand the business best.
“Sharing the load is better than having one person take over a company,” said Patrick Martin, one of the cooperative owners. Other members are Justus Peterson, Bobbi Plata, Maggie Bates and Shawn Serdahl.
Changing to worker cooperative is also a more value-driven than a maximum-profit motivation, said Tom Dorr, a business consultant who helped A-1 make the transition. It’s ideal for smaller, longtime companies that want to keep the company culture in place. Whatcom County small businesses have a strong value-centric culture with strong community ties, including the buy local campaign, Dorr said.