In 2005, Robert Wegman found out that Fortune magazine ranked Wegmans #1 on their list of Best Places to Work.
He responded, “This is a culmination of my life’s work.”
He died one year later, but customer loyalty and employee satisfaction has continued.
For the third year in a row Wegman’s Food Markets has been ranked #1 as America’s favorite grocery store chain. They were also ranked #1 in Temkin’s annual customer-experience ratings. They just destroy the competition.
Many people have heard of Wegman’s but few have experienced the brand. Why? Because they only have 97 stores dotted across New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia. Wegman’s is the 31st largest grocery store chain in the United States.
They choose to grow slowly, refusing to open up more than 3 stores per year.
“We cannot continue to be the best if we try to go at a faster pace.”
When a new store opens there are thousands of people waiting to get in. When Wegman’s shoppers were surveyed a common response was, “I’d never move anywhere there isn’t a Wegmans.”
In 2017, more than 7,300 people contacted Wegmans asking for a store in their community. Another 11,000 wrote to say how much they like shopping at Wegmans or appreciate the way Wegmans employees treat them, or how much they appreciate the products and services offered.
The company’s culture was built by Robert Wegman who took control of the family business in 1950. Here is what his peers said about him:
"Bob Wegman is the best merchant I have ever met anywhere in the world - and I’ve met most of them. He is a most remarkable man.’’
"Whether he is going up against Ahold or Wakefern, WalMart or Walgreen’s, he wins against every company and every type of retailer he faces.’’
In the 1990’s, Kroger Co., the largest supermarket chain in America, offered to buy Wegmans Food Markets and make Robert Wegman the Chairman of Kroger. Robert turned it down. Think about that for a minute. Wegmans Food Markets at the time wasn’t even a Top 50 grocery store chain by size. It just shows how much the industry respected what Robert Wegman was doing in his little niche of the market.
Robert Wegman’s father and uncle started the business in 1916 under the name Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Company. They grew it methodically and they were also innovative. In 1930, they opened a 20,000 square foot store – absolutely gigantic by the standards of the era. It included a 300 seat cafeteria. Most grocery stores were small at < 2,000 square feet. They were some of the first to showcase refrigerated display windows and vaporized water sprays to keep produce fresh.
Robert Wegman would spend most of his childhood and young adult life around the grocery business. He started working full-time at Wegman’s soon after he graduated in 1937. He worked in all the stores learning every aspect of the business. In 1950, at the age of 31, he became president after his uncle died.
At the helm his goal was to build the finest supermarket chain in the land. He was willing to give up fast growth to focus on quality of operations. The first thing he did as President was to raise all salaries. He wanted employees to know he cared about them because they needed to care for the customer.
In 1953, he announced a broad, extensive, and unprecedented employee benefits plan for the companies 350 employees. A year later he added an employee profit sharing plan.
He was obsessed with customer service and trying new things. He would be the national advocate for product code scanning at checkout. He was the first to initiate a shoppers club discount system. He was one of the first to start private labeling of products. He was the first to put bakeries and cafés in the grocery store. He was the first to put a child play center right in the grocery store. He was an innovator that wasn’t afraid to fail.
The company would continue to slowly grow and grow while sustaining their brand loyalty and values.
Robert Wegman died in 2006. The company is now run by Robert Wegman’s son Danny Wegman and Danny’s two daughters. Wegman’s now has 40,000 employees, and those employees remain the company’s focus.
Wegman’s puts a tremendous amount of money and training into employees. Every cashier goes through 40 hours of training before they are put in front of a customer. The company sends its butchers to Colorado, Uruguay and Argentina to learn about beef. They send their deli managers to Wisconsin, Italy, Germany and France to learn about cheese.
They also give employees autonomy to make decisions. A baker at the Wegman’s in Pittsford, NY said: “They let me bake whatever I want. They [Wegman family] are really down-to-earth, wonderful people”.
The company has a quarter of the turnover of its peers.
The Wegmans model is simple. A happy, knowledgeable and superbly trained employee creates a better experience for customers. Extraordinary service builds tremendous loyalty.
If you would like to learn more about Wegmans:
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