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What Furniture Retailers Can Learn From Wegmans Food Markets

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Wegmans Food Markets, the Rochester-based regional grocery chain with just over 90 stores and reported $8.3 billion in sales, is more than just a good place to shop and work. It is hands down the most beloved supermarket in the country among its customers and employees. It’s a shop that POPs!

If you’ve never had a Wegmans shopping experience, it is worth the trip. Every time I shop at Wegmans, anywhere I have shopped, the stores are filled with people happy to be shopping there. The excitement is palatable. The fresh vegetable and fruit displays are the best I’ve seen, which is what I personally judge a grocery store by and the first thing you see when entering. The exceptional high-quality and engaging displays extend to its meat and fish counters. And its private label offerings are exceptional quality too.

Prepared foods are also a big part of the Wegmans experience, where customers can pick up dinner from a wide range of choices from sushi, Mexican, Italian or classic American comfort foods. Everything I’ve ever sampled is delish. Wegmans has joined the growing list of grocers offering the convenience of online ordering and home delivery services through a partnership with Instacart.

My millennial daughter-in-law says, “I’d never move anywhere there isn’t a Wegmans.” Apparently, that is a sentiment shared widely. Whenever a new Wegmans store opens, people stand in line to get bragging rights as one of its first local customers.

Wegmans gets the love of customers

A recent study by Engagement Labs found that Wegmans ranks second on its list of Most Loved Brands of 2017 among offline brands measuring face-to-face conversations. While online social media engagement is what most brands are chasing, the most powerful word-of-mouth marketing comes from personal, face-to-face conversations and recommendations. Wegmans nails that, as does top ranked Disney World.

“Ninety percent of the conversations about Wegmans is positive, compared to only 6% that are negative,” says Ed Keller, CEO of Engagement Labs. “The offline sentiment for Wegmans has always been substantially higher than the Supermarket/Grocery Store category in general.” It leaves its peers on that list in the dust, such as Trader Joe’s, H-E-B, Publix and Shoprite which follow in order.

That Wegmans customer love translates into customer loyalty. A recent survey conducted by Market Force Information among 12,700 shoppers found that Wegmans is American’s favorite grocery retailers, scoring 77% on its customer loyalty index. On that list Wegmans ties with Publix for the top honor. In the Market Force survey, Wegmans further gets special mention for its specialty department service.

With so much customer love and loyalty, I reached out to Wegmans to ask it’s secret. Jo Natale, Wegmans’ vice president of media relations, who says the company rarely grants interviews, was willing to share. “It is our employees, and the incredible service they provide our customers, that set us apart. We hire the best, and we invest in training and development,” she says.

To be first with customers, Wegmans believes it must put its employees first. “In order to be a great place to shop, we must first be a great place to work,” Natale affirms.

In that measure Wegmans gets kudos. Fortune just named Wegmans the nation’s second-best company to work for, after Salesforce. There is a noticeable lack of other retailers on that best employer list, which should be a wakeup call to retailers seeking to gain customer trust and loyalty.

Customer relationships start with the people employed in the store and who serve the customers. Retailers everywhere, no matter what they sell, can learn from Wegmans’ example.

Wegmans is a family-owned company, now in its 102nd year of operation under the leadership of the third and fourth generations of the Wegman family. The spirit of family extends to its customers, employees and into the community. It is stated in the company’s philosophy that was codified in the late 70s and early 80s:

 

At Wegmans, we believe that good people, working toward a common goal, can accomplish anything they set out to do. In this spirit, we set our goal to be the very best at serving the needs of our customers. Every action we take should be made with this in mind. We also believe that we can achieve our goal only if we fulfill the needs of our own people. To our customers and our people we pledge continuous improvement, and we make the commitment: ‘EVERY DAY YOU GET OUR BEST.’


Acting on its commitment to staff, Wegmans devoted $50 million last year to employee development, according to Fortune, including structured programs to help employees grow into management positions and to develop culinary skills.

Wegmans sets aside $5 million for scholarships. The company says, “More than half of our store managers have worked with Wegmans since high school or college, starting as part-time cashiers, and many completed their education with help from our Scholarship Program.”

Its mission of “helping people live healthier, better lives through food,” is something that its nearly 50,000 employees can believe in.

In addition, Wegmans offers a workplace that welcomes diversity, recognizing that by employing people from all different backgrounds it gains different perspectives and credibility with a diverse customer base. “We believe that diversity inspires new ways of thinking and innovation,” the company states. Its proactive stance in attracting different types of employees with diverse points of view, experiences and backgrounds puts at No. 8 on Forbes list of America’s Best Employers for Diversity.

The company also touches people beyond its stores and in the communities it serves. It donates food to the hungry, upwards of 15 million pounds of healthy food last year. It also donated $7.4m to local community-based non-profits and engages with the United Way through company, employee and customer donations to the tune of $6.4m in 2016.

That level of community outreach and support is something everyone affiliated with the company can feel proud of. The company states, “We’re committed to improving the lives of our customers and employees in every way we can.”

By putting people first, starting with its employees who personally deliver the products and services to the customers, Wegmans has garnered love and loyalty from both. Wegmans understands that in this age of Amazon, physical retailing now is a people, not a product business. That means retail success is less about what you sell and more about how you sell it. The secret is to put people first.

Wegmans’ customer loyalty is built upon a foundation of employee loyalty. The love people feel for Wegmans, both from its customers and employees, results from the love that the Wegman family feels for the people it serves (customers) and the people it serves them through (employees). And that love extends out into the communities it serves. There is no higher compliment than to have people say, “I love shopping at Wegmans” and so many, many people do.


 


More about Pam Danziger: Pamela N. Danziger is an internationally recognized expert specializing in consumer insights for marketers targeting the affluent consumer segment. She is president of Unity Marketing, a boutique marketing consulting firm she founded in 1992 where she leads with research to provide brands with actionable insights into the minds of their most profitable customers.

She is also a founding partner in Retail Rescue, a firm that provides retailers with advice, mentoring and support in Marketing, Management, Merchandising, Operations, Service and Selling.

A prolific writers, she is the author of eight books including Shops that POP! 7 Steps to Extraordinary Retail Success, written about and for independent retailers. She is a contributor to The Robin Report and Forbes.com. Pam is frequently called on to share new insights with audiences and business leaders all over the world. Contact her at pam@unitymarketingonline.com.

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