Peter Sheahan has spent over a decade teaching businesses how to flip their thinking and find opportunity where others cannot. He believes that the real money is in the cracks, and that prospects for mind-blowing success are all around us. Here, Peter takes a look at the success of the US brand Wegmans, and their expertise when it comes to employee expertise and customer relations:
In Demand, authors Adrian Slyawotzky and Karl Weber speak to the key behaviors of magnetism, citing the grocer Wegmans as a prime example of a company mastering the concept. While Wegmans has created a cult-like following for itself by investing deeply in employee expertise and customer relations, what I think really sets themselves is core for this competency. I think Wegmans is magnetic because they aren’t afraid of reinvention — in fact they are blessed with dissatisfaction. Or as The Atlantic described it over a year ago, part of Wegmans’ secret sauce is that it is “the anti-Walmart.”
Wegmans was born out of a dissatisfaction with the status quo, and since first being founded in 1916 it has continued to push the boundary and look for more out of what the grocery experience should be.
Dating back to its earliest days, Wegmans has always embraced new thinking, technology, and what could be better. Going back to the 1930s, Wegmans built a cafeteria with seating for 300 inside of its store. Looking at the Ikeas, Wal-Marts, and Targets today, you won’t find a single one without this service. Furthermore, in 1932 Wegmans became the first grocery store in Rochester to introduce refrigerated display windows and vaporized water sprays to keep produce fresh and eight years later Wegmans first started stocking frozen food items. The store outside of Rochester, New York was one of the first to adopt the new bar code technology Universal Product Code (UPC) in 1974, revolutionizing the way we checkout. Well before customer loyalty and discount programs became the trend for businesses, Wegmans was already testing out their “Shoppers Club” program in their Corning store in 1990. They are the first chain in the country to introduce fresh irradiated ground beef under their own label in 2002, and in 2007 they established their own organic research farm off the shores of Canandaigua Lake, assembling a team of experts to research organic farming and to share their findings with partner growers.
Beyond innovations in their operations and store capabilities, Wegmans also found itself dissatisfied with the role it was playing in the larger community. It didn’t want to just be where people went to grocery shop — it wanted to be where people went to nourish themselves… to live healthier lives. In the 1990s the big marketing push at Wegmans was its “Strive for 5” program, which sought to educate shoppers on the importance of getting your daily allotment of fruits and vegetables. It wasn’t just another flashy campaign to get customers in their stores, though. Wegmans hired a registered dietitian to work with their chefs to design and execute on the program, offering recipes with nutritional analyses to promote better health and wellbeing. Today, go to the Wegmans website and you’ll see an entire portion dedicated to “eat well. live well” with a greater mission to inspire and support each other to enjoy healthier, better lives using four simple principles. When’s the last time you saw your local Safeway, King Soopers, or Piggly Wiggly trying to improve your health? Wegmans has gone as far as banning the sale of all tobacco products within its stores in 2008, out of concern for the role smoking plays in people’s health. A bold move, but also one in complete alignment with their values and one focused on improving the community.
Starting as a grocer, Wegmans has consistently reinvented itself to become a community partner nourishing each and every family walking through its doors. They’ve assumed the responsibility of the entire industry to work with the community to make everyone better. In doing so, they’ve not only created amazing relationships, but they’ve solidified and enabled their customer base to be stronger. A savvy business move considering that your business is only as health as the market supporting it. It is this commitment to reinvention, driven by always asking what could be done better, that has landed Wegmans on Forbes list of the “Largest Private Companies in the US.”