PG Salutes Wegmans for a Century of Success

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PG Salutes Wegmans for a Century of Success

By Meg Major, EnsembleIQ - 08/15/2016

As Wegmans Food Markets marks the centennial anniversary of its founding this year, Progressive Grocer commemorates the occasion in its August issue with a special salute to the wow-worthy regional supermarket chain that woos shoppers to its cathedrals of consumption with market-leading innovations and superior service.

Synonymous in the supermarket business with excellence and innovation and renowned for its expansive destination stores, well-oiled execution, magnificent merchandising and fanatical customer fan base, Wegmans has left an indelible mark on the U.S. grocery scene, which has categorically become a better place as a result of the company’s rising-tide-lifts-all-boats leadership.

Admired for its engaged front-line associates, quality-first approach, spectacular displays, restaurant-quality prepared foods, and big, beautiful stores, Wegmans has had an undeniable impact on the grocery industry on its way to becoming one of the largest family-owned companies in America.

Racking up a dizzying array of accolades and generating barrels of virtual ink on all sides of the internet buzz-meter, as its inviting, experiential food-shopping experience reaches new geographic markets, Wegmans never fails to cause a sensation when it comes to town. In 2015, more than 4,000 people contacted the retailer to ask for a store in their respective communities, alongside another 7,300 who wrote the company letters proclaiming their love of shopping at Wegmans.

As one of the most admired retailers on the planet, Wegmans, based in the Rochester, N.Y., suburb of Gates, has long marched to its own beat. With a relentless quest for continuous improvement via calculated risks, a willingness to experiment and an enlightened approach to honing the talents residing in its people, the resulting payoffs are self-evident. Widely credited for raising the food retailing bar, Wegmans has all but single-handedly changed customer expectations for grocery shopping by prioritizing an exceptional overall experience with a whatever-it-takes mindset.

Opening no more than four new stores each year, Wegmans opted for deliberate growth in a relatively compact six-state footprint – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia – belying the dynamic impact it’s had in new expansion markets, particularly during the past 35 years, when the 89-store retailer’s stellar reputation for quality, quantity, consistency, price points and customer experience made it the institution that modern consumers have come to embrace.

It’s no accident, of course, that the timeframe of its ascent to the captaincy of the industry coincided with the tenure of Danny Wegman, CEO of the family-owned company and son of Wegmans’ legendary chairman, Robert, who died in April 2006.

While the company’s foundation was already rock-solid, the ensuing years of good-to-great progression following Danny’s appointment to president in 1976 are unmistakably linked. In recent years, his two daughters – President Colleen and SVP Nicole – have infused even more fresh thinking into the well-respected organization, which proclaims its extended “family” of associates to be its deepest point of pride.

Fortune Continuously Smiles

Viewed as the indispensable ingredient of Wegmans’ secret sauce is a high-trust/high-performing culture that strives to treat each associate as an integral part of an articulated set of core values made up of caring, high standards, making a difference, respect and associate empowerment.

Proof of the same can be found in the company’s perennial place on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, on which it landed at No. 4 this year, in addition to being the top-ranked retailer. Wegmans is one of only 12 companies that have remained on the list since the ranking’s inception in 1998.

“When our people feel cared about and respected, they turn around and make our customers feel that way, too,” said Danny, who sent out a Wegmans-size thank-you, after this year’s Fortune honorees were revealed, to both customers and employees, “because together they make Wegmans a happy place to be.”

Hammering home its guiding belief  – that good people, working toward a common goal, can accomplish anything they set out to do, to accomplish its greater purpose: to be the best at serving the needs of its customers  – Wegmans fortifies its ambitions by taking care of its teams with attractive benefit programs, including an employee scholarship program that provides $4.5 million in tuition assistance to associates each year.

Its role as an exemplary employer mirrors its commitment to the communities it serves with exceptional levels of charitable donations focused on programs that reduce hunger, help young people succeed, promote healthy eating and activity, strengthen neighborhoods, and support United Way initiatives. Last year, Wegmans donated about 13.5 million pounds of food to local food banks and programs that feed the hungry.

Indeed, while much has changed over the century that Wegmans has been in business, the company’s beliefs about the way to treat people have endured, as Danny affirmed in his letter that appeared in the 100th-anniversary-themed issue of Wegmans’ Menu magazine: “Our values remain the same. They’re the foundation for our core business philosophy that my dad outlined years ago: To do something that no one else is doing, and offer customers a choice they don’t have at the moment. This is the only reason for being in business. This is the basic premise on which we at Wegmans operate.”

Indeed, the company lives up to that premise in spades. With its upscale, open-air market appeal and lively displays accentuating an excellent assortment, Wegmans  – also acclaimed for its spacious aisles  – carries 50,000 to 70,000 products, depending on the specific floor plan, which ranges from 75,000 to 140,000 square feet in an ever-expanding geographic base.

The chain is currently prepping for its next wave of evolutionary growth, which includes three more new stores in 2016, in Short Pump, Va.; Owings Mills, Md.; and Charlottesville, Va. Two more are on tap next year for Hanover Township and Montvale, N.J., followed by a new store on the board for 2018 in Natick, Mass. A little further down the road, on dates yet to be announced, Wegmans will break ground for new sites in Chantilly and Tysons Corner, Va.; Lancaster, Pa.; and Medford, Mass.

However, the most watch-worthy project in Wegmans’ development pipeline is a 74,000-square-foot store slated to open, perhaps by late 2018, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As Wegmans’ first-ever store within New York City’s five boroughs, the Navy Yard location will be the retailer’s smallest  – and Brooklyn’s largest  – supermarket. This certainly promises to be interesting for the vertically integrated company, which controls its entire distribution and supply chain. Moreover, Wegmans’ keen focus on its private brands throughout the store has been a linchpin in solidifying its strong price image.

Social Significance

Inspired by Wegmans’ trailblazing industry innovation throughout its 100 years of existence, as well as its unrivaled ability to generate a flood of social feedback, we took to Facebook for the first time to enhance our reporting by inviting PG’s followers to tell us about the various ways that Wegmans wows them.

All told, we received 200-plus comments from folks all across the country, who weighed in with comments to the following questions:

  • Which department/section in Wegmans wows you the most? Why?
  • What’s the rarest “wow” product find you’ve encountered in a Wegmans?
  • What’s the most indulgent “wow” moment you’ve had in a Wegmans?
  • How will Wegmans’ first New York City store next year in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard wow otherwise jaded New Yorkers?

PG's centennial salute to Wegmans in our August issue features some of the favorite comments captured in our pilot experiment with citizen journalism, which we feel best highlight the various ways the sensational supermarket chain wows its legions of food-shopping aficionados, as well as additional coverage by Managing Editor Bridget Goldschmidt and Contributing Editor Jenny McTaggart.