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The Wegmans public relations machine continues to do an A+ job, with a new story about the company in The Atlantic that starts this way:

“Cashiers are barred from interacting with customers until they have completed 40 hours of training. Hundreds of staffers are sent on trips around the U.S. and world to become experts in their products. The company has no mandatory retirement age and has never laid off workers. All profits are reinvested in the company or shared with employees.

“A doomed Internet startup? Occupy Wall Street fantasy? Bankrupt retailer recently purchased by Walmart?

“No, a $6.2 billion-a-year, 79-store-supermarket chain with cult-like loyalty among its customers. Wegmans, which operates its 79 stores in New York, Pennsylvania and four other East Coast states, shows that a business can generously train its workforce and profit handsomely.

“Privately owned by the Wegman family, the chain employs 42,000 people - 20 times the number who work for Facebook - and defies quarterly-driven Wall Street wisdom. Executives say their most important resource is their workers.”

The story notes that while Wegmans’ people are seen as being its greatest advantage, it also has other advantages - enormous stores located primarily in affluent areas, high volume generated by “a dizzying array of 70,000 products” - that give it differential advantages in virtually every market it serves. And an emphasis on price that was instituted several years ago when big box stores started to make moves into the grocery business has allowed Wegmans to avoid looking too expensive, despite its high-end approach to fresh foods.
KC's View:
Okay, I’m going to commit a bit of gentle heresy here.

I recently went to the first Massachusetts Wegmans (my second visit there) and was less than overwhelmed.

Let’s be clear. It was incredibly crowded. Getting a parking space was a challenge. Business may have fallen off by as much as 50 percent from the $3 million/week it was doing when it opened, but that’s a healthy amount of weekly revenue.

But inside ... well, let’s just say there were some holes. There was a sense (and I was visiting with a couple of people who know much more about this stuff than I do) that the emphasis on price may have forced Wegmans to take its eye off the ball in a couple of spots. The fresh seafood presentation seemed less than inspiring. There were gondolas that were cast in shadow because of imprecise lighting. Fresh foods that were eaten in the in-store cafe that were deemed “good enough,” but hardly mind-blowing. And prices that were good, but in some cases not quite as sharp as some at a Whole Foods we’d visited a half-hour earlier.

Again, let’s be clear. Wegmans is one of the best food retailers in the country. No question about it. But sometimes I think there is a canonization effort afoot that the company does not deserve.

I also think, by the way, that the people I’ve met at Wegmans would reject any canonization movement. They know they always need to get better, they know their are holes in any operation, and they take a boots-on-the-ground approach to making its stores better every day.