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Few food retailers have managed to shine as brightly, or become as universally respected, as Wegmans Food Markets, whose 100-year heritage as industry trailblazer, community emissary and employer of choice we commemorate in our August issue.
Since Wegmans is one of the most admired – and adored – retailers on the planet, we felt it was only fitting to do something uniquely different for our first-ever formal homage to the Rochester, N.Y.-based retailer on the occasion of its 100th birthday. Accordingly, we chose to focus on Wegmans’ total body of “wow-worthy” work, from both the industry and consumer perspectives.
My editorial colleagues – Bridget Goldschmidt, Randy Hofbauer and Jenny McTaggart – and I began our brainstorming session by sharing our professional and personal observations about Wegmans’ wow-worthiness, at which time it was revealed that neither Jenny nor Bridget had ever been inside a Wegmans – that is, until late June and early July, respectively.
Jenny opens her narrative, “Seeing Wegmans with a Fresh Set of Eyes,” by declaring: “As a trade magazine editor who has written about the grocery industry for more than a decade, I was embarrassed to admit to my colleagues that I had never stepped foot in a Wegmans Food Market. After all, Wegmans is viewed as the crown jewel of grocery stores. The chain enjoys a cult following of loyal shoppers in its core markets, and has earned a superior reputation among retailers, manufacturers and anyone else who knows the inside of the grocery business.
“Up until now, though,” she continues, “the only way Wegmans had ‘wowed’ me was through anecdotal observations from the trade and consumers that I gathered through my years of covering the grocery business.”
Jenny’s account of her visit to Wegmans’ Woodbridge, N.J., location is preceded by Bridget’s account of her own maiden voyage to Wegmans’ suburban Philadelphia store in King of Prussia, Pa.
As Bridget, PG’s managing editor, aptly writes in her “Big Deal” summation, “Part of creating a sense of destination is the grocer’s willingness to blend innovation with the tried-and-true,” including such unusual features as a trail-mix bar and an in-store bakery equipped with its own mill to grind locally sourced artisan flours. “For the traditional,” she points upward to “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 semi-mythical 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 round out our coverage, Senior Editor Randy Hofbauer spearheaded our inaugural efforts to solicit feedback via boosted Facebook posts asking about the various ways Wegmans wows consumers. In a concise timeframe in early July, we received more than 200 comments describing the many ways the social network’s users feel that Wegmans sets itself apart – a robust sampling of which is also peppered throughout our coverage.
One Facebook comment in particular served as the inspiration for our whimsical, unconventional August cover design: “From the first step inside a Wegmans, I knew I had found MY store. It was magic.”
Over the course of 10 decades, Wegmans has earned a well-deserved place in an elite class of companies that have created highly productive, widely admired, supremely successful brands as a result of family-fostered principles focusing on workplace culture as a competitive tool.
In addition to its enlightened approach to harnessing the riches residing in its people, Wegmans’ admirable quest for continuous improvement via calculated risks and a willingness to experiment has unquestionably helped the grocery industry become a better place, thanks largely to the vision of its late chairman, Robert Wegman.
The first few lines of a speech that Wegmans’ patriarch delivered in 1967 at a food industry conference in Thailand defined the framework for his company’s operating philosophy, and bears repeating: “I am a merchant, and I have, therefore, my own philosophy about merchandising. That is: To do something that no one else is doing, and to be able to offer the customer a choice they don’t have at the moment.”
Legend has it that nearly 50 years later, some Wegmans employees are still known to refer to the “I am a merchant” speech, to keep the foundational inspiration top of mind as the company grows.
As well they should.
To everyone at Wegmans, here's to 100 more years of wowing shoppers!