Despite the circumstances, 2020 has been a good year for Bill and Teri Cardell.
After 31 years of selling performance parts for the Mazda Miata, their aptly-named business Flyin’ Miata based in Palisade, Colorado, is on target to have its best sales year yet — all while converting to a worker cooperative.
When Bill and Teri decided to retire, they wanted to leave their employees in good hands. That turned out to be easier said than done.
After talking with three potential buyers, none of them could guarantee that everyone who currently worked at Flyin’ Miata would continue to be part of the team. It just didn’t feel right to leave the employees without control over their own lives at work, all for the sake of a buyout.
“They’ve worked with us for forever,” Teri said, “We felt like we owed it to them.”
The only way Bill and Teri saw to make that a reality was to pursue employee ownership. With the business entirely in the hands of the employees, a worker co-op would allow each person to have an equal say in the management and direction of the company.
There’s a difference between knowing you want to do something and knowing how to do it, however, and that left the selling owners unsure of how to proceed.
That’s when Jeremy Ferber, long-time employee and new worker-owner, saw an email about an event that featured the Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center. They attended the event and learned that Flyin’ Miata fit the criteria to be a good candidate for employee ownership.
So, in the fall of 2019, Bill, Teri, and the future employee owners began working with RMEOC to make it happen.
“Working with Rocky Mountain [sic] was really pretty easy,” Jeremy said, “They had answers to most things, and when they didn’t, they’d send us to people who did.”
The group was connected with attorney Linda Phillips, of law firm Jason Wiener, P.C., who worked with the employees to develop their new cooperative in accordance with Colorado statute and to close the sale.
Partnering with RMEOC to facilitate the transition ended up saving everyone in the business months of headaches from dealing with financing, seeking legal advice, and trying to figure out what to do next — not to mention that the co-op provided a built-in buyer: the employees.
Instead, Bill and Teri were able to make a sale that provided them with financial benefits while allowing their legacy, values, and the culture of the business to live on into the future.
They note that not only has the surrounding community of Mesa County showed their overwhelming support, but the greater Mazda Miata community has also continued to purchase products from Flyin’ Miata.
“A lot of people were impressed that we went with a co-op,” Bill said, “The Miata community is so thrilled.”
“Flyin’ Miata is one great example of the many small and medium sized businesses across Colorado that can continue to thrive in our communities, even as the founding owners retire, by becoming employee owned. Our mission is to work with those business owners and employees to make it happen,” said Amy Beres, RMEOC’s Executive Director.
So what’s next for the now 100% employee-owned business?
The new employee owners are just finishing a six-part training with RMEOC’s Technical Assistance Specialist, Ashley Ortiz, aimed at providing deeper education for the owners to build a strong culture of engagement in their new worker cooperative.
“We’ve been working with Flyin’ Miata’s new owners to help them gain insight into things like how to make efficient group decisions and how to read and utilize financial statements,” Ashley said.
“Taking time to understand and set up a strong foundation for shared ownership at the start can really help lay the groundwork for a smooth and efficient transition.”
Jeremy said a key task is to start training younger members of the board now on the values and responsibilities of being a worker cooperative. That way they’ll be able to continue improving and growing together. The co-op, in everyone’s minds, is something worth keeping.
“This has been a really amazing process,” he said, “and we’re all very thankful to Bill and Teri for doing this for us.”
“It’s an exciting new day for the business.”
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