It’s a steady drumbeat that has been building: People can’t stop talking about the two upcoming Wegmans stores expected to open in the suburban Baltimore region—one in Owings Mills and one in Columbia.
A Columbia Facebook page dedicated to the upscale grocery store, known for its gourmet offerings, has 875 followers as of the most recent count. Howard County food blogger, HowChow, is featuring a second-by-second countdown to the store’s opening, expected to be June 17, 2012.
In Owings Mills, which is expected to get a Wegmans by 2014, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz hailed the chain’s decision to open a store at the old Solo Cup factory property as an action that will build momentum for other redevelopment projects going on in the area.
"A Wegmans-based retail center will energize community activity throughout the Owings Mills Town Center,” he said.
With the help of Dr. Janet Wagner, University of Maryland associate professor and director of the Robert H. Smith School of Business’s Center for Excellence in Service, we put together a list of things you might not know about the grocery store chain:
1) Wegmans, which currently employs more than 42,000 people across six states, wins with its employee focus, Wagner says.
Wagner, who discusses aspects of the Wegmans business model with her students, said the biggest advantage the company has is its focus on employees. Wegmans training programs range in length from two to six months for part-time employees to three to five months for full-time workers.
Wegmans has been also been listed in Fortune Magazine’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For. Wegmans took the No. 1 spot on in 2005 and third in 2010.
“If you have better customer service, you have more loyal customers,” she said. “Loyal customers are actually less expensive to serve and consequently you can run a more profitable operation.”
2) In 2010, Wegmans received nearly 4,000 requests from people asking for a location to be built in their community.
According to company spokesperson Jo Natale, Wegmans started receiving requests for a location in Columbia immediately after the Hunt Valley location opened in 2005. Since that time, Columbia has become one of the most requested markets in the chain, she said.
3) Wagner: The company has no direct competition, seeking instead to bridge the gap between standard supermarkets and high-end grocery stores.
Another important element to the company’s success, said Wagner, is that it doesn’t have any direct competition--even when located near other grocery stores. She said because the stores integrate both a market design and a standard supermarket layout, they appeal to a wide range of customers.
A store like Giant or Safeway targets a standard middle class customer, whereas stores like Trader Joes and Whole Foods Market target more upper middle class customers, said Wagner. Wegmans tries to bridge those two market segments, she said, adding there are plenty of customers in Maryland that fit into those categories, especially in communities like Columbia and Owings Mills.
4) Wegmans does not always receive a warm welcome when opening a new store.
According to The Baltimore Sun, the new Abingdon Wegmans in Harford County caused traffic snarls on nearby roads and ruffled the feathers of at least one local grocery store.
Klein’s Shoprite, a locally owned grocery chain in Harford County, claimed Wegmans was inaccurately printing ShopRite price information in the store’s price comparison advertisements, a claim Wegmans denied.
Mike Blum is a spokesperson for Shoprite, and he told The Sun the dispute highlights the extreme level of competition that exists in the grocery store industry, explaining that many stores have only a 1 to 2 percent profit margin, leading to fierce competition over customers.
5) Wegmans has recently been praised by the EPA for its help to keep the environment clean.
Scott James, a writer for Forbes' CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) blog, recently interviewed Matt Bogoshian, senior policy counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Bogoshian praised Wegmans, along with Staples, for helping the EPA work with manufacturers of thermal paper to find alternatives to Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound thought to be harmful to the environment and public health.
“Thanks to these business leaders, the EPA is now examining 19 alternatives to BPA with the active engagement of the full supply chain,” Bogoshian said.