Consider this situation: You have just returned home from a supermarket; when you unload your groceries, you realize that a $25 package of fresh fish, tonight’s dinner, is not in your bags. You check your receipt, and indeed, you had paid for the fish. Further imagine that early the next morning, you are leaving on a three-week trip. If you shopped at most supermarkets, you might decide that there is not much to do about the missing fish.
Recently, our family was in this situation. Fortunately for us, the supermarket was Wegmans. Wegmans is a family-owned chain of 71 stores. Their average store is three times the size of a typical supermarket. They offer everything you’d find at a traditional supermarket as well as offerings that you would typically find only at Whole Foods.
I went online to Wegmans’ site and sent them an e-mail explaining our situation with the fish. I expected to get back an e-mail encouraging us to go to the store with our receipt after returning from our trip. The e-mail I did receive was a pleasant surprise: a Wegmans’ customer service representative apologized for the mistake and promised to send us a gift card for the sum of $50. The extra $25 represented Wegmans’ way of compensating us for our inconvenience. When we returned from our trip, we did indeed find the gift card and a note of apology from the local store manager.
Wow, now that is customer service! That kind of sincere customer service can’t be faked. Superior service can only be achieved when the customer service representatives are being treated as well by management as management expects them to treat customers.
Wegmans consistently ranks at the top, or close to the top, of Fortune’s list of best places to work. Salaries are higher at Wegmans than at other supermarket chains; and over the past twenty year, the company has paid out more than $50 million dollars in college scholarships to its employees. Wegmans spends generously on employee training and eschews rigid hierarchies that prevent the training from being used effectively.
According to Fortune “Wegmans’ labor costs run between 15% and 17% of sales, compared with 12% for most supermarkets. As a consequence its annual turnover rate for full-time employees is just 6%, a fraction of the 19% figure for grocery chains with a similar number of stores.”
And how about profitability? Again, according to Fortune’s estimates, Wegmans’ “operating margins are about 7.5%, double what the big four grocers earn and higher even than hot natural-foods purveyor Whole Foods. Its sales per square foot are 50% higher than the $9.29 industry average.”
Consumer loyalty to Wegmans is fierce. Many of its customers will drive long distances to shop at one of their stores. The loyalty of Wegmans’ customers is in part due to Wegmans’ loyalty to their employees. Treating employees well leads to treating customers well. Their former president Robert Wegman who passed in 2006 said, when referring to his generous treatment of his employees: “I have never given away more than I got back.”
In Robert’s wisdom, we hear an echo of one aspect of the perennial spiritual wisdom—giving and receiving are one in the same. If we offer kindness, caring, and a generous spirit, that is what we will receive. The values that Wegmans embodies are timeless; yet because most want to receive before they give, they are not easily implemented. In today’s competitive world, there are lessons in the perennial spiritual wisdom that many companies would be wise to learn.