Wegmans Sets the Standard
By George Anderson
It’s hard, perhaps even impossible, to find anyone in the U.S. grocery business who doesn’t view Wegmans as one of the top supermarket chains in the industry today.
Robert Higgins, director of the Center of Food Marketing at St. Joseph’s University, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that there is good reason for that universally held opinion.
“The way they design their stores, the caliber of people they recruit and retain, the innovation they bring to the food system is truly unique and differentiated,” he said.
The reason Wegmans has continued to earn that reputation, said company president Colleen Wegman, is it remains focused on what has made it successful and not simply opening new stores.
“We’re not afraid of growth,” she said. “The reason we have grown slowly is that we want to make sure our people are fully prepared and trained to deliver on our model of incredible service.”
Ms. Wegman expects the company to continue opening two or three new stores a year as it has done in the past.
Neil Stern, a partner at McMillan/Doolittle, said Wegmans has a “fantastic strategy” for growth that it is able to follow because it is a privately-held company. It might not be able to do so if it had to meet the expectations of shareholders and analysts.
“Their format is not only capital-intensive, it’s people-intensive,” said Mr. Stern. “Literally, they can’t train people fast enough. Even if they have access to capital, from a human resources standpoint, they can’t grow any faster.”
When Wegmans does open a store, consumers are sure to follow. Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, called reports that the new store in Sterling, Va. brought in $675,000 on its first day of business “accurate.”
“I was told opening week, there was about $2.8 million,” he said. “It’s like P.T. Barnum got reincarnated.”
Wegmans’ reputation goes well beyond its market area. According to the company, it received 4,655 letters and e-mails last year from consumers in 46 states who want the chain to open a store in their area.
“They make shopping a true experience rather than the way most consumers feel in feedback to us: that it’s a drudgery,” said Prof. Higgins. “If you look at marketing today, word-of-mouth is becoming almost the most powerful method of getting your message out to customers – and once you’ve been in a Wegmans store, I’ve never known anyone to walk out of one saying they didn’t like the experience.”
Moderator’s Comment: What makes Wegmans Wegmans? To borrow from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle headline,
“What’s next for Wegmans?” –
George Anderson – Moderator