Stephanie Ulrich
Benefits Accountant
  • Plan(s)
    401(k)
  • Total Plan Assets
    $129MM
  • Number of Participants
    1,300
  • Participation Rate
    98%
  • Average Deferral Rate
    5.25% pre-tax/Roth, 6.7% including after-tax
  • Default Deferral Rate
    5%
  • Default Investment
    Vanguard Balanced Index Fund
  • Automatic Enrollment
  • Automatic Escalation
  • Employer Contribution
    100% of 4% match, and variable profit sharing
  • Provider(s)
    Recordkeeper, Newport Group; Advisers, Thompson & Knight LLP, Newport Group Consulting, LLC
  • Financial Wellness Educator(s)
    Corporate America Family Credit Union, RightNow Media @ Work, Newport Group


Through its nonprofit arm, the Martin Foundation, the company funds $400,000 to $500,000 of higher-education expenses each year for its employees and their dependents.

The RoyOMartin 401(k) plan has a 98% participation rate, despite the company having many hourly employees. The wood-products company, headquartered in Alexandria, Louisiana, has a long history of using plan design and a strong employer contribution to help put employees on track for retirement readiness.

New employees get automatically enrolled at 5%, and the plan has re-enrolled existing participants. The 401(k) offers employees a 100% of 4% match, and the employer makes a variable profit-sharing contribution each year.

RoyOMartin has about 1,250 workers and three manufacturing facilities. “Almost 800 are hourly employees who are production workers,” says Vice President of Human Resources (HR) Donna Bailey. Two of its three manufacturing facilities have highly technical jobs, she says, while the plywood facility has about 700 employees and mostly manual-labor jobs. The company has approximately 18% annual turnover, she adds.

RoyOMartin has had a defined contribution (DC) plan since 1956 and revamped it as a 401(k) in 2001, says Benefits Accountant Stephanie Ulrich. “We did auto-enrollment from the very beginning of the 401(k),” she says. “We also went to a guaranteed match, plus profit sharing, in 2001.” Prior to that, the employer made its contribution entirely through profit sharing, so employees didn’t have a guaranteed employer contribution, she explains.

Since 2001, the plan has done a 100% of 4% match. Asked what message it gives employees to motivate them to save for their retirement, Bailey responds, “Our employees know that retirement is the end of their work, but it’s not the end of their life. That’s at the root of all our conversations about our retirement benefits: We talk about keeping the end in mind. We tell them, ‘You will end your working years, but your life continues.’ We want our employees to be comfortable and enjoy their retirement.” New employees get auto-enrolled on a pre-tax basis, but they may switch that to an after-tax contribution or Roth contribution if they prefer.

Senior management decides each year on the percentage of profits to allocate to profit sharing. “It has run as high as 13%, but the average over the past several years has been 5%,” Ulrich says. “It’s something that our employees look forward to every year. It’s kind of akin to a bonus: It’s definitely a celebratory event for our employees.”

When RoyOMartin revamped its plan in 2001, it used a balanced fund as the default investment and still does. “Our default investment was never a stable value fund, even back then when it was common for plans to do that,” Ulrich says. She attributes the company’s forward-thinking 401(k) changes made nearly 20 years ago to its entrepreneurial culture and continued family ownership.

And RoyOMartin recently expanded its education for employees. Starting this year, they have free access to a financial counseling and wellness program through Corporate America Family Credit Union. “Financial wellness is a big thing we do here,” Ulrich says. “We want to take care of the whole employee. We also want to help our employees not just get to retirement, but through retirement.” That can mean employees need to take steps many years earlier, she says, such as living within a monthly budget and eliminating credit card debt.

Employees can call to talk to a Corporate America Family Credit Union representative or log on to its website and work with the financial-fitness tools on goals such as developing a spending or savings plan. “Sadly, many people go through high school and don’t know how to balance a checkbook,” Ulrich says. “Learning that balance of spending and income is a big thing.”

Judy Ward

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