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Big Deal


As far as Wegmans Food Markets is concerned, bigger is better.

That philosophy informs the Rochester, N.Y.-based grocer’s sprawling stores, which try their darnedest to be various things to as many shoppers as possible: grocery store, convenience store, liquor store, pharmacy, eat-in restaurant, corner bar, takeout joint and, last but certainly not least, a place for the community to gather and feel at home.

From its wide, easy-to-shop aisles, to its peerless, reasonably priced product selection — including many private label options — to its super-courteous associates and its near-legendary responsiveness to customer requests, Wegmans has all of the bases covered.

While there’s a definite minority of consumers who find such size and selection overwhelming — “Finding the handful of items I needed was like searching for a needle in a haystack never mind the fact that I had to cover what felt like miles and miles of retail space to hunt down a bottle of salsa and some black beans,” wrote Emily Leaman in Philadelphia magazine in 2012 about an apparently traumatic visit to a Malvern, Pa., store — many fans note that, despite their enormous scale, the stores provide various direct entrances — to the Market Café dining area, for instance — to enable customers to get in and out quickly.

In fact, most visitors, as shown by the overwhelming response to PG’s social media queries, seem to be just fine with the grocery store chain the way it is. As one commenter on Leaman’s article similarly noted: “Wegmans is a destination, not a grocery store.”

Old Meets New

Part of creating that sense of destination is the grocer’s willingness to blend innovation with the tried- and-true. For novelties, take a gander at the company’s unusual offerings — whoever heard of a bar where you can create your own trail mix, or an in-store bakery with its own mill to grind locally sourced artisan fours? — and sense of playfulness, as exemplified by its signature model train chugging along a track suspended from the ceiling. For the traditional, look no further than the outer design of Wegmans’ stores, with their familiar clock tower feature meant to evoke a small-town city hall, or perhaps a church or school, harking back to a semimythical American past recalled by your grandparents as a time when life moved at a slower pace and everyone was a little kinder to one another.

To help create an in-store ambiance in keeping with its old-timey storefronts, Wegmans carefully selects and trains the people it hires to work in its stores.

“At a time when our stores continue to lead the industry, we are looking for talented individuals to help us remain the best,” Kevin Lang, manager of the Wegmans store in King of Prussia, Pa., noted at the time of a July hiring event for the grocer’s seven southeastern Pennsylvania stores. “It’s an exciting time to be part of Wegmans, with endless opportunity for employees to grow their careers right alongside the company’s continued growth. We have multiple paths for career success and give our employees the freedom to explore any career area throughout the company.”

As for inviting customers to relax and take their time, a recent visit to a Wegmans Market Café around lunchtime revealed patrons tapping away at laptops in an unhurried manner, while others enjoyed leisurely sit-down meals. Employees working in the area were respectful and unobtrusive. Even outside of the café, in the store aisles themselves, shoppers seemed content to savor the experience, with no one in any rush to leave.

With 100 years of growth under its belt, Wegmans’ unique approach to business has resulted in phenomenal success: The regional grocer regularly appears on Progressive Grocer’s Super 50 list of the nation’s top-ranked food retailers. This year, it landed on the 17th rung, with fiscal year-end sales of $8 billion. By becoming larger than life, Wegmans has perfected a winning formula for attracting and retaining customers.

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