Planting Ownership Among Employees: The Success of Employee Ownership at Applewood Seed Company

Applewood Seed Company is an international leader in high quality bulk wildflower and garden flower seeds selling to commercial companies and gardening/landscape professionals.

Founded in 1965 in Golden, Colorado, by Gene Milstein, he began collecting and selling Colorado wildflower seeds as a hobby from his basement. Applewood Seed has since become one of the largest producers of open pollinated flower seeds in the country.

Applewood Seed sells through a variety of distributors that in turn sell into various markets. Seeds produced by Applewood Seed Co. are distributed by private brands through mass merchandisers, grocery stores, home and hardware stores and via internet sales. 

The company collaborates with other seed companies for conservation purposes, roadside beautification and in production agriculture settings. Pollinator conservation is a growing segment of Applewood Seed’s business as it pertains to ecological restoration and to increase yields on various agricultural crops. Ecosystem diversification in federal and state conservation programs is a growing segment of the business.

At the end of July 2020, Applewood Seed became a Colorado Employee-Owned Company with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). The primary reason the company moved to an employee ownership structure was for a guaranteed succession plan, as the owners neared retirement.

The company was also aware that their employees were one of their most valuable resources. They wanted to offer a quality benefit for their hard work and retain and empower their team. Employee ownership was their way to strengthen an already robust benefits plan and further invest in their employees to achieve new heights within the organization.

In addition to the key benefit of rewarding employees for their work ethic and dedication, leadership recognized additional benefits to the organization by way of tax savings, lower employee turnover, higher company cash flow and faster growth.

“Throughout a record year and continuous expansion of our company, we’ve experienced an incredible increase in employee engagement to accompany our growth,” said Ryan Guilford, Chief Operating Officer at Applewood Seed Company.

“Our company’s culture has expanded beyond an employee-employer relationship with this new sense of empowerment through the ESOP. The material impacts on the company have increased beyond our expectations through a new employee-owner mentality and employee owners thinking and acting like the organizational leaders that they are.” 

Applewood Seed Company has been selling flower seeds for over 55 years and in some cases, established companies like these can become rigid in their ways of operating. According to Guilford, employee ownership gave the company a whole new feeling, more energy, a sense of adaptability and higher level of employee engagement. In under a year, the employee ownership has already permeated every aspect of the company as they grow and look forward to the years to come with their new set of exceptional owners.

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