Spending a good portion of my life in western New York, I love and now miss having a local Wegmans grocery store near me. If you haven’t been to a Wegmans to experience why it is one of the most beloved brands in family-owned businesses, you need to stop by if ever passing one.
Wegmans has stellar scores for customer, employee and community engagement. When the company opened its first store in New York City, the New York Times wrote glowingly:
“Founded in 1916, Wegmans has consistently been ranked the top grocery store in the nation by Consumer Reports and the Food Network, and Forbes placed it among the top 10 employers in the country. Because of its emphasis on prepared foods, the company offered to create at least twice as many full-time jobs (200) and more total jobs (600) than any of its rivals.
“In its first two weeks of hiring, the store will interview exclusively from the three housing projects that border the Navy Yard, a community it hopes will be on both sides of the checkout line, said Danny Wegman, the grocer’s third-generation chief executive. ‘People need not just good food, but good jobs. Brooklyn provides an incredible opportunity for both.’”
Most noted is the connection between customers and employees: “We believe that good people, working toward a common goal, can accomplish anything they set out to do. In this spirit, we set our goal to be the very best at serving the needs of our customers. Every action we take should be made with this in mind. We also believe that we can achieve our goal only if we fulfill the needs of our own people. To our customers and our people, we pledge continuous improvement, and we make the commitment: Every day you get our best.”
This is taken right from the company website, and while they don’t have to share so much information (it’s not a corporation), you can see that they are proud of what they do.
Wegmans is a stellar example of what an independent business should be. It provides a great experience for customers with exciting displays, locally sourced products, and exceptionally clean, well-organized and merchandised stores. It sounds an awful lot like what I have been talking about in column after column.
My point is, you need to follow Wegmans and do some homework on the company. Believe in your people first, believe in your community, and when your employees and community love you, profits will come quickly. Wegmans is one of the few companies receiving love letters from its customers/fans. It is not uncommon to have 2,000 people or more at a grand opening. They treat their employees as a second family, and most managers start in the lower ranks of the organization.
Wegmans finds and keeps its people with flexible hours and great benefits. Even part-time people can get health insurance and working parents can get the flexibility they need to be a parent first. Imagine the talent pool you could work from in a showroom if this was your culture.
Similar to a great showroom, Wegmans is thoughtfully merchandised. I have always spent more time than planned when shopping, and have been a loyalty club member there since inception. It tracks data with the loyalty club and can text you if a food item was recalled. Imagine if you could do that if there was a warranty issue on a product you sold. Better yet, if you could text with a suggested sell item five years down the line. Something like, “Time to update the other bath? Would love to see you again.”
It promotes the local farms and businesses it uses as suppliers. They drive home the buy-local message, and from the looks of the store traffic, people seem to embrace it. They donate to local food banks and work on community programs. You can do the same. It feels good to shop there. It should be promoted and celebrated in your company, too.
Wegmans is about as close to luxury grocery shopping as you can get. It relates perfectly to the experience a showroom needs to create. As an example, they pipe in farm sounds (such as roosters) through the produce department’s music system. They immerse you in the experience with all senses and make sure you leave happy.
As a showroom manager or employee, I hope you recognize shopping experiences such as this when you are out retailing. As much as we all as a group critique a public bath or kitchen space, you should be aware of your retail surroundings and what they are trying to accomplish.
I personally notice when they strategically place bananas in the cereal aisle and near the peanut butter. Why keep them in just one place? Do you merchandise knobs and hardware strategically in multiple spots to compliment the lighting or faucets? Do you merchandise soap dispensers and bath accessories in the right places? I hope you think this way.
Merchandising with Technology
Merchandising for luxury also can be accomplished with technology. While luxury showrooms don’t bulk products out, carefully placed points of technology can help enhance a customer’s experience.
Among consumers, the boundaries between online and offline consumption are increasingly fluid. Coined by Alibaba founder Jack Ma in 2017, the term “New Retail” describes the digital integration of physical experiences as the future of shopping. New Retail offers immediacy, fluidity, and the seamless customer journey that consumers are already accustomed to from their use of apps and the “see-now, buy-now” model of e-commerce, from product discovery to delivery to customer service.
Consumers live and breathe convenience, with the ability to gain product knowledge at the tap of a finger. They embrace physical experiences that are digitally enhanced and look to brands meeting their needs and budgets.
As we go down this path, showrooms need to continue to invest in controlling their brand and influencing the consumer with relevant information. Showrooms need to explore and invest in creating a digital space within their physical space as consumers prefer to explore products and gain knowledge without human interaction.
Like a grocery store, human interaction has become less of a factor in creating an experience. Merchandising has taken the lead in self-serve. I would expect this to accelerate in the showroom world. Planning for your next showroom should involve technology, kiosks and self-serve options to at least get the consumer partway down the sales process.
While we are all living in an unprecedented time with exceptional sales growth, you should be planning what is next and embracing the technology to help shorten the bid-to-close path.