For anyone who appreciates a truly customer-centric organization, one that is invested in its stellar reputation for ongoing trust and value creation, customer experience optimization and building employee ambassadorship, Wegmans is the company to emulate. This 90 year old, family-run chain might be the best supermarket retailer in the world, and maybe the best company overall.
Rochester, New York-based Wegmans, now a chain of close to 100 supermarkets throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions of the U.S. (sorry for the rest of you that don’t have a Wegmans nearby), has succeeded in creating an almost cult-like bond with its customers. The company, which is well-known for its food selection and quality (you can even custom blend your own trail mix), and for its empowered, well-trained and proactive employees, was recently named the best supermarket chain in America by Consumer Reports; and, yes, it certainly might be the best retailer in the world.
Wegmans has constructed and sustained a culture where the customer truly comes first, and customer experience is the barometer by which it measures success. For example, the retail grocery industry is normally associated with fairly passive and reactive customer service; but, like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, Wegmans’ employees readily make themselves available to help customers (who Wegmans refers to as “guests”) find what they want, and often make recommendations for what they think the customers would like.
As the individual designated to do all of the food shopping for our family, the weekly experience is rarely something to be identified as a personal delight; but, at Wegmans, it is not a chore and is often pleasurable. Stores are attractively laid out, almost like an old-world open-air market. There are tea bars, multiple eat-in options, and chef-prepared breads and meals to take home. When shopping there, rather than rush through, the inviting atmosphere makes it enjoyable to take my time, relax and experience what the store has to offer. Better for me, and better for Wegmans.
Wegmans also does other things to set itself apart, and in positive ways. From a merchandising and reputation perspective, they are seen as a pillar of the communities in which they operate. They were one of the first chains to purchase from local vendors. They offer new technologies, such as the interactive recipe and shopping list feature on their web site, and an iPhone app that helps shoppers organize their purchase list on an aisle by aisle basis in the store – all to enhance the shopping experience. They support community causes and events. Wegmans represents conscious capitalism, in the truest sense of the term, further building the bond between the enterprise and the customers, many of whom consider Wegmans ‘their store’
As important in delivering great experiences are the things customers don’t see, particularly where employees are concerned. Since Fortune Magazine first started its “100 Best Places To Work” in 1998, Wegmans has made the list; and in 2005, it was named the best employer in America. Wegmans invests a tremendous amount in employee training. Staff members get an array of attractive benefits, such as contributions to college tuition funds for their children. The payoff for Wegmans is dedicated, loyal, and motivated employees who are truly ambassadors for the chain and help endear it to customers.
Tesco, which has come off the customer-centric rails of late would do well to send its executives across the pond for the purpose of re-learning the art, science, and pure knack of creating real stakeholder trust and value – through convenience, innovation, and excitement – effectively and almost seamlessly demonstrated, everyday, by Wegmans.