Wegmans Food Markets started nearly a hundred years ago in Rochester, New York. While the grocery store chain has grown a great deal in the preceding century its headquarters remains right where it all began.
Wegmans Director of Media Relations Jo Natale told Opportunity Lives that the company’s philosophy hasn’t changed either.
“The business philosophy of the Wegmans family: take care of employees and they’ll take care of the customers.”
“We started in 1916 as a very small, family run operation,” she said. “It was really just 2 brothers.”
Walter and John Wegman started out as a pair of “produce hucksters” selling fresh food to Rochester locals from a pushcart. Today the company employes 44,000 people at 85 stores across 6 states. Despite the incredible growth, Wegmans is still run by the brothers’ descendants.
“The 4th and 5th generation of that family run the business today,” Natale said.
The family has succeeded, at least in large part, due to their ability to keep Wegmans continually near the top of Fortune’s Best Companies to Work for list. This year they’re located in the top 15 nationally at number 12.
This, Natale explained, is a product of “the business philosophy of the Wegmans family: take care of employees and they’ll take care of the customers.” Their goal has always been to make the company “not just a great place to shop but a great place to work.”
They’re a “family company that works to create a family atmosphere” by using “flexible scheduling” and “promoting from within.” “That philosophy has led to our success,” Natale said.
Wegmans isn’t without their challenges in what Natale described as a “very competitive industry.” Besides the task of keeping up with competitors from Walmart to CVS to the local food pantry, they face a patchwork of state laws that govern how they do business. Most notably alcohol ordinances.
“Laws that govern the sale of alcohol vary wildly from state to state,” she said.
In Virginia Wegmans can sell beer and wine directly to customers through their grocery stores. However, in Pennsylvania they can’t. The other 4 states they operate in fall into different places along the regulatory scale.
“It’s certainly one of the issues we face,” Natale said. “It’s a part of doing business.”
The company has been able to master that challenge and others. It has become one of the most beloved retailers in the north east.
“What we really believe sets us apart is our people.”
Going forward Wegmans is planning to continue its expansion at a “measured pace.” They don’t want to move to quickly and compromise the quality opportunities they offer employees and the quality service they offer customers.
“We never wanted to be the biggest, only the best,” Natale said.