At Wegmans, Conscious Capitalism Becomes a Killer Marketing Strategy

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(The following is the full version of the recent Democrat and Chronicle article I wrote on Wegmans Conscious Capitalism principles, published January 4, 2015)

The Saturday before Christmas is typically one of the busiest shopping days at Wegmans.  I purposely arrived early so I could get in and out as painlessly as possible.  As soon as I walked through the door I felt something was different.  There was electricity. A real energy. Maybe it was anxiety, or maybe it was excitement.  Staff was buzzing around, chatting among themselves, big smiles, robust pats on the back, pumping handshakes and looks of determination.  When I mentioned to someone in produce that a scale ran out of tape, three employees jumped to fix it.  (‘These folks are on fire!’, I thought).

When I saw Mary in her usual spot in the floral department I said I could tell the army was ready for the battle. “Oh no”, she said, “don’t you know? Danny, Nicole and Colleen are coming at 9:30!  They’re going to be dressed up in holiday outfits, and they’ll sing us carols. You should stay!” (No way, I thought… it’ll be madness!).

Throughout the store employees were fussing, cleaning and falling over themselves to help customers. “Finding everything okay?”  “Can I help you with anything?”  One chef wiped a stainless counter in front of the food bar so much I wondered if he’d wear through the finish.  The young lady at the coffee bar nervously sputtered, “I’m afraid I’ll forget how to make a cappuccino if He asks me for one”.

It was as if a king was coming.   And in fact THEIR King was coming …  with his family, to sing them songs and spread some holiday cheer.  I’m guessing the visit is part of the company ethos to be close to the employees as much as possible and to treat them well. Of course it also gives the ownership some exposure to their customers. But it was the employees knocking themselves out for the owners, the Wegmans family, that I noticed.

So what does this have to do with Marketing?  As a customer, I found myself sporting a huge smile and making friendly comments to fellow customers because the energy was so contagious.  As a marketer, I knew the inside story. The pride the Wegmans employees have for their company was striking and truly affecting how business was being done that day.  The esprit de corps translated into superior customer service, a feeling of belonging even as a customer.  Sure, I could have gone to the Public Market and bought the produce, cheese and bread I needed for less, but, hey, Wegmans provides an experience and convenience I was willing to pay more for.   That’s the power of marketing at its core. 

If you own a business you owe it to yourself and your company to read Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey, the co-founder of Whole Foods and Rajendra Sisodia, Professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Research Scholar at Babson College.   In the book, Mackey sites Wegmans several times as a poster child for how running a business with the principles of Conscious Capitalism can catapult a business forward.  The concept is built on 4 simple principles:  having a Higher Purpose than just making money, having a Stakeholder Orientation that recognizes their value, embracing Conscious Leadership by having a vision and inspiring others to join in, and creating Conscious Culture that cultivates the values, principles and practices of the business.  The book shows how adhering to these guiding tenets will yield greater returns for you, your customers, your employees, your suppliers, your investors and your community than running your business based only on the bottom dollar.

According to a recent AdAge study, only 41% of companies surveyed have a holistic and strategic approach to employee engagement.  Perhaps this is, in part, because senior managers don’t see how valuable excited, enthusiastic employees can be to a company’s business.  They don’t encourage HR and Marketing to work together to build the camaraderie and shared values to take employee involvement to a higher level. But Wegmans does.

Saturday’s event went beyond an HR tactic.  It was a principle voiced by the owners that resonated through every employee I saw:  “Every day you get our best”… our best as people who are business owners and managers who care about our employees, suppliers, investors, community, and, of course, customers.
Well done, Wegmans – family, leaders and employees.