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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.