The Wegmans Way

My strategy this week was to do a reverse engineered approach to source my article. Forbes recently came up with the Top 100 Best Companies to work for in 2009, and I noticed that Wegmans continues to be among the top five for several years in a row. I asked myself, “How does a supermarket, known traditionally for ‘boring’ jobs like cashiers and baggers, become one of the best employers in America?”

For those of you not familiar with the family-owned supermarket chain, you can find out more from the top half of this article found on CNN Money. Otherwise, please start from the bottom half. Yes, the article is older, but the concepts are relevant and applicable to our industry. If it worked in 2005, and continues to work in the downturn economy of 2009, they must be doing something right.

What are they doing right? They make it so that working at Wegmans is a “badge of honor.” They have cultivated a company culture that makes their employees proud to be part of the Wegmans family. As stated in the article, “…the smiles you receive from Wegmans employees are not the vacuous, rehearsed grins you get at big-box retailers. They are educated smiles…cultivated perhaps through company-sponsored trips to Napa Valley’s Trinchero winery.”

Not surprisingly, they pay well and have great benefits, but they actually apply some basic but powerful HR concepts well. The difference is, they practice what they preach, and the results speak for themselves. For example, they empower employees: Kelly thought her supervisor would take credit for some research she did, but she actually ended up presenting the results herself directly to Robert Wegman, President at the time. They also listen to employees: Maria had been baking a popular cookie for other employees for several years. How did Wegmans end up using her recipe to make one of the most popular cookies in Wegmans history? She asked the president one day, and he agreed. Operations chief Jack DePeters half joked that, “We’re a $3 billion company run by 16-year old cashiers.”

Translate that into our industry. How many hotels do you know bring a bellman into the corporate office because he made a brilliant new invention of attaching the doorstop to the bellcart with a self-retracting cord? Does the French executive chef ask the Burmese line cook to provide his suggestions for that ‘exotic’ Asian-Chicken noodle dish?

Take management that cares, add to that staff that feel honored to work there, and that equals a fantastic guest experience. I am in awe when innovators can take something as basic as coffee (Starbucks), shoes (Nike), or supermarkets and turn them into something more than the sum of their parts. Wegmans has created a culture where employees truly enjoy working there, and that is the best recipe for enhancing the guest experience. For those who have walked into a Wegmans store, you know exactly what that means.

As students in Upstate New York, my fiancée (at the time) and I would spend two or three hours at Wegmans instead of study for an upcoming exam. Our ‘chore’ was to get groceries, but the experience was so much more than that. We loved interacting with the different chefs behind their stations and enjoying a freshly prepared pasta primavera. We would ask Bob, the cheese specialist, to recommend something to go along with that Pinot Noir we just took off the shelf. Gustavo would teach us how to cook that ribeye steak in the oven because he realized we didn’t have an outdoor grill. And even though they did not allow our puppy to enter the store due to health regulations, the manager would ask about the pup every time we were there. No Dominics, Safeway, Kroger, or Albertsons could even come close to that experience.

Read the article here.

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