By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — Responding to the ongoing national debate about the minimum wage, the partners at Hermit Woods Winery announced this week that beginning on Friday, Aug. 19, all its employees will be paid "a living wage" of $15 per hour.
In a prepared statement, Bob Manley, who with Ken Hardcastle and Chuck Lawrence owns the business, said "We have built a hardworking, dedicated team. We want to be able to reward them with a living wage so they can support their families and pursue their passions in life as we have."
Manley said the company operates with eight full-time and part-time employees, some recent graduates carrying student debt, others with families to support and two single mothers. All, including one placed by Lakes Region Community Services who holds an entry level position, will receive $15 per hour, an increase of $3 per hour, or 25 percent.
Jennifer Dystra of Northfield, the sales and distribution manager, joined Hermet Woods in April.
"It's going to be the difference between scraping by and not having anything to save and saving something," she said. "I have two kids that I support. It's a huge difference."
"Finding the right people for the right jobs," Manley said, "has been a challenge." He explained that the winery invests considerable time and effort training its employees, providing them with a knowledge and appreciation of wines. "Our employees know about wine in general and our wines in particular," he continued. "Our job is not to sell wine, but to create a unique experience, to educate our customers about wine and encourage their interest in our wines in a setting where they are comfortable." Employees, he described as hosts and hostesses, not sales clerks.
Hardcastle said that 85 percent of all sales originate in the tasting room in Meredith. He hopes that the pay raise will reflect itself in the experience of customers if those catering to them are not worried about how to make ends meet. "Having the additional money helps alleviate personal financial stress," he remarked. "So everyone who comes in will see happy people serving them."
"We can't afford to keep turning employees over," Manley said, adding that "we want to offer the opportunity to make a career. Anticipating significant expansion of the business in the next two to five years, he remarked "there will be lots of opportunity here."
On the company website the partners explain that they reached the figure of $15 after reviewing data that indicated the amount is widely considered "a living wage" throughout the country based on the cost of living. At the same time, they acknowledged that the cost of living in New Hampshire is about 16 percent higher than elsewhere and conceded that "$15 an hour would be the minimum for most people to adequately supports themselves and their families."
Manley said that that to meet the cost of the raise a surcharge of 3.5 percent will be added to every sale, stressing that all the proceeds from the surcharge will be applied to the payroll. He said the average purchase is $50, for which the surcharge would amount to $1.75. He pointed out that customers pay all the expenses of operating the winery, including the wages of employees.
Jennifer Dykstra, sales and distribution manager at Hermit Woods Winery in Meredith, and co-owner Ken Hardcastle, are both excited about the company's decision to enact a surcharge on its products in order to pay each employee $15 per hour. Co-owner Bob Manley said, "We are not sure $15 is enough, but it is a heck of a lot closer than $12."(Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)