Credit: Illustration: Peter Hoey
Credit: Illustration: Peter Hoey

Arthur Mullion, co-owner of Regal Home Improvement, in Richmond, Va., is happy to report that the newest member on his seven-person sales team has been with the company a little more than five years.

At many home improvement companies, five years would make that salesperson a grizzled veteran. But at Regal, the sales team's most senior veteran has logged 40 years with the company. Another, 21 years. Someone else, 10.

Why do Regal Home Improvement's reps stick around? Mullion is convinced that much of it has to do with benefits. The window, siding, and sunroom company offers employees a 401(k) retirement plan, a health insurance plan, basic dental coverage and, for reps, a cell phone. But, Mullion says, when it comes to salespeople, the biggest benefit is the company car that he provides when reps hit a certain goal, which most do. A car, and the gas to run it.

“That's saving [the sales rep] thousands a month,” Mullion says. “Most companies don't offer that. Most [home improvement] companies say: ‘Here's your opportunity.'” Meaning: Here are your leads.

Mullion buys a one- or two-year-old car — the Toyota Highlander is preferred — in the salesperson's name. Having the company pay for the car encourages Regal's sales staff to cover not just metro Richmond but outlying areas such as Petersburg, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, and Charlottesville. “When they leave, they sign the title back over to me,” Mullion says.

YOUR KEY ASSET Benefits are defined as anything you offer outside the realm of direct compensation. Generally, when people think benefits, they're not thinking cars, gas, or cell phones; they're thinking insurance and retirement accounts. The smaller the company, the less likely it is to offer such perks.

When should you? “As early in the life of your business as you can and remain profitable,” advises Dallas Salisbury, president and CEO of the Employee Benefits Research Institute, in Washington, D.C.

Companies offer benefits for several reasons, says business consultant Ray Silverstein, author of The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses (reach him at Typically, benefits mean employees miss fewer workdays and will have a higher commitment to meeting the company's goals. Owners often use benefits to help minimize turnover because they don't have the time, or the inclination, to constantly train. “If you find guys who are good,” Mullion asks, “why go through that whole rigmarole again?”

Recruitment is another big one. “When you start to look for people, and you want to grow, you find that there are certain benefits that are taken for granted,” Silverstein says. Those would include paid holidays, paid vacations, and paid sick leave. For many job-seekers, health insurance and some kind of retirement plan would also be among them.

“If you build up a workforce and you want to keep those employees, you have to consider benefits in addition to compensation,” says Twin Cities benefits consultant Peter Ronza, who assists small- and medium-size employers with setting up their benefits programs. “That's what's expected, and that's what your competitors are going to offer.”

Expectations vary by the size of the business, but generally, says Sal Lona, a benefits expert with Aon Consulting (, “The top three questions every new employee asks are: How much do I get paid? What are my job responsibilities? And what kind of medical insurance do you offer?” Other insurance benefits that employees expect, Lona says, are dental, life, and disability.

BENEFITS AS BUSINESS STRATEGY Five years after he started his company in 1986, Wayne Wynn, owner of Home Town Restyling, in Hiawatha, Iowa, put together a benefits package that included health insurance, dental insurance, 401(k) retirement, and long-term disability. He had 15 employees then. It took that long, Wynn says, because “when you start a remodeling company, you're not sure how long you're going to be in business.”

Today, with 72 employees and $6 million in sales, Wynn regards those benefits as a key part in creating the kind of business that he can eventually sell and retire from. “I knew that if I wanted to keep the personnel I had, I had to offer something besides money,” he says.

Offering benefits, or significantly enhancing your benefits package, is a business decision, and a strategic one. What do you want your business to be, and where do you want it to go? The benefits you offer are based on the answers to those questions. And, of course, on what you can afford.

“I make less money by choice because I have a 401(k) plan, health insurance, and profit-sharing,” says Bob Dillon, owner of Unique Window & Door, a $20 million home improvement company in Indianapolis. His goal, Dillon says, is to replace himself and sell the company to his employees through an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan).