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Marketing, Branding, Communications, and PR Professional

...And Part Time Marathoner

The case for scaling slow; Focusing on growth while maintaining culture

Posted on 20 Apr 2017 in Professional | 0 comments

I am not the first person to say it, nor will I be the last.  Forget (almost) everything that you learned in business school and instead focus on people.  People are everywhere.  They are in every facet of every business on the planet.  Customers are people.  Employees are people.  And people buy things from people.  First and foremost.  So, if you focus on people you should be successful.  Right?

It sounds simplistic, and truth be told, it is.  I’m not advocating the total disregard for the bottom line.  Nor am I telling you that the customer is always right.  What I am telling you is that if you focus on the people that make your business successful, you will—ultimately—be successful.  If you focus on your customer by knowing what their pain points are and what they truly want, you will be able to drive results to the bottom line.  However, you will only be able to do that if you focus on the people who will develop the products and services for your customers to consume…your employees.  So now you see why focusing on people is so important.

So, who does that well, you ask? Wegmans supermarkets.  Maybe you’ve never heard of them, or maybe—like me—you are from Upstate NY where Wegmans got its start.  Which makes me not just a fan of Wegmans but makes me a true fanatic.

But you don’t need me to prove to you how great Wegmans is.  Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. is a privately held regional supermarket chain headquartered in Gates, New York, near Rochester. At present, Wegmans has 92 locations located primarily in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions.  Wegmans has a foothold in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia (and is coming to North Carolina to the delight of thousands of NY’ers who now call the Tar heel state home).

The famous Wegmans script logo adorns every location.

Founded in 1916 in Rochester, Wegmans has appeared on Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list since the list first appeared in 1998, and has ranked among the top 10 for eight consecutive years.

Now how can I—and others—be so excited about Wegmans?  Are there really that many members of the Wegmans’ fan club?  Let me answer that with a resounding “yes”.  Wegmans has a loyal fan base of customers who have received recognition for their devotion, who have lined up overnight in the thousands for a new store opening, who regularly write “love letters” to the store to ask for one to open in a region not presently served, and in Northborough, Massachusetts, high school students staged a musical about the store  According to Wikipedia, the store’s fans have their own twitter hashtag “#Wegmania” and a Tumblr page devoted to the grocery chain.

And it’s not just fans.  It is the business community too as Wegmans is no stranger to awards and accolades—the kind that are bestowed on the best of the best and the titans of industry.

  • Ranked #2 in the 2017 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient® study of the ‘100 most-visible companies.’
  • Ranked #4 on FORTUNE magazine’s 2016 list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Wegmans has been on the list every year since it first ran in 1998, and in 2005, ranked #1.
  • Ranked #5 on FORBES magazine’s 2016 list of America’s Best Employers.
  • Dubbed America’s Favorite Supermarket in 2016 based on a consumer study by Market Force Information.

Other interesting considerations are as follows (courtesy of

  • Wegmans raises the bar on the shopping experience: the best quality; a spectacular abundance of choice; restaurant-quality prepared foods; beautiful stores and displays; and a nearly telepathic level of customer service.
  • In 2016, more than 7,800 people contacted Wegmans asking for a store in their community. Another 8,000 wrote to say how much they like shopping at Wegmans or appreciate the way Wegmans employees treat them.
  • Consistent low prices on the items families buy every week. Wegmans also offers the choice of Family Pack size on products throughout the store to save time and money—30% or more compared to regular size.
  • Exceptional levels of charitable donations focused on programs that reduce hunger; help young people succeed; promote healthy eating and activity; strengthen neighborhoods; and support United Way initiatives. Last year, Wegmans donated about 14.5 million pounds of food to local food banks and programs that feed the hungry.
  • Strong employee benefit programs, including an employee scholarship program that provides $4.5 million in tuition assistance to employees each year. Wegmans has awarded $105 million in scholarships to more than 33,000 employees since this program began in 1984.

With all the accolades—and revenues of more than $7 billion—traditional business wisdom would tell you that Wegmans should be in a hurry to finish their takeover of the entire Atlantic Coast.
That traditional wisdom is routinely ignored by the Wegmans leadership.  Wegmans opens anywhere between two and four stores per year.  Colleen (President and CEO) and Danny Wegman (Chairman) firmly believe—as do I—that growing too fast is the number one threat to a successful company culture.  It is for that reason that Wegmans focuses on growing slowly and deliberately rather than by opening as many stores as fast as they can.  They want to create a culture for employees and customers alike that focuses on truly delivering the experience that they want.  Wegmans is one of the creators of the “destination grocery store”—a grocery that employees want to work at and customers want to shop at.

Rapid growth results in making bad hiring decisions and nothing kills an engaged company culture like poor HR choices.  It also makes it hard to understand what is happening in your company financially.  A smaller company affords you with the ability to have a much more complete financial picture and it also prevents people from going on a “success spending spree”.
And finally—but perhaps most importantly—scaling slowly helps to prevent you from losing touch with your customers.  It prevents you from doing what so many other companies have done…it prevents you from winning new customers at the expense of the customer experience you provide to your current customers—here’s looking at you cable companies. (you can change your name to Spectrum, but we all know it’s you Time Warner).

So, take it from me—or take it from Wegmans as they are the experts—resist the urge to grow too fast.  Instead make sure that your growth is steady and measured.  You’ll not only make money, you will make a lasting impression on customers and employees.  And people have a tendency to spread the word about positive experiences.  I believe I can hear the cash registers ringing now.

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