Why this family-owned business surprised its 200 employees by giving out $4 million in bonuses

Owner of FloraCraft, Lee Schoenherr.

The employees of one family-owned Michigan company are going to have a very merry Christmas this year: Michigan-based FloraCraft is gifting nearly $4 million in holiday bonuses to its 200 employees just in time for the holidays.

FloraCraft — headquartered in Ludington — is a leading manufacturer of foam products for the craft and floral industries, with products sold at retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Michaels, Joann and Hobby Lobby. The company, which was founded in 1946, employs roughly 200 people.

The idea for the generous gift came from owner and chairman Lee Schoenherr, who has run the company since 1973. The surprise was announced on Dec. 14 at the company's holiday luncheon, in which employees applauded (some even shedding a few tears) in response to the news.

"This is something [Lee's] been wanting to do for many years," Eric Erwin, president and CEO of FloraCraft, tells CNBC Make It. "In February, he told the board, 'you know, I really think this is the year we've got to figure out how to do this.' We spent a better part of the year making sure we had the right program in place."

Each gift will be based on longevity of service, the company says, and will be shared to full-time team members as a cash bonus and a gift to the employee's 401(k) account. While the amounts of the gifts will vary, the average bonus will be about $20,000 per worker, the Detroit Free Press reports, with the first installment made by the end of 2019. A second cash bonus and special bonus to 401(k) accounts will be gifted by the end of March 2020. For employees who have worked at the company for over 40 years, gifts will top $60,000.

FloraCraft announces to its employees the surprise bonuses.

Erwin notes that the senior team at FloraCraft is not participating in the bonus.

The plan for the bonuses was top-secret, Erwin tells CNBC Make It, and they even had a code name for it: Green Bucks (a nod to the hunting community in Ludington, Erwin says).

"I believe strongly in giving back to the community by supporting initiatives that make Ludington a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family," Schoenherr, 82, said in a statement calling his employees, "the heart and soul of FloraCraft."

In FloraCraft's entire history, the company has never had a layoff, and the average employee tenure is nine years, the company says. Many of the company's employees are following in the footsteps of family members that had worked at FloraCraft before them.

"They've been ecstatic," Erwin says of the reaction from the employees after the announcement. "But I think the one word is 'unexpected.' I've head that so many times.... [T]hey know that Lee has been a generous man and has kept people working through good times and bad, and they've got a great amount of loyalty to him. But I don't think anyone expected the size of the gift that Lee gave away."

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