USA Today has begun what it calls a series of articles about Wegmans, the upstate New York company that started as the Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Company in 1916 and now has become a regional powerhouse with 109 stores and more on the way, including its first unit in Connecticut and one in New York's Greenwich Village.
The premise seems to be that examining how Wegmans has changed will explain to some degree how the world has changed, how retailing is being reshaped by events, and how customers are driving and responding to these shifts.
"Supermarkets are a reflection of society," USA Today argues, "for good or bad. If you are what you eat, it follows that you are where you shop, making the supermarket an aspirational American enterprise. But the stores that are available to you are also who you are. That's why people get upset when they consider themselves Trader Joe's people and there's no Trader Joe's nearby.
"For all the evolution — and there has been plenty over more than a century in business — Danny Wegman takes no small pride in the fact that, while his grandfather Walter would marvel at the scope of the modern operation (and likely wonder what a Buffalo chicken was), he would still recognize the 'basic businesses' at work.
"'It’s farming, cooking, running retail stores,' he said. 'Most of what we do does not require a Ph.D. It requires hard work, dedication. And many of our folks can begin in the dish room and end up being an executive chef. That's the best part of our business'."
Another passage from the story:
"Wegmans is in a constant state of reinvention: opening new suburban stores after a flurry of supersizing others and abandoning underperforming areas.
"It may be a family business but it is still a business, and Wegmans is not sentimental: The chain has closed 27 stores, including its original fruit and vegetable market, shuttered in 1955. The last Wegmans to close its doors was on Pond Street in Syracuse, a location that was a Wegmans for 42 years before closing in 2012. It is now owned by Tops Friendly Markets.
"The decision to close a store comes down to one word, Colleen said: volume.
"'We look at, ‘Where can we go where we can do enough volume to be able to support all the great fun things that we want to be able to do?' she said. At Pond Street, 'we didn't have the volume there.'
"'We used to have larger stores. We're trying to go smaller again and we're finding we're able to do the same amount of volume in a smaller store. So we're trying to find that right balance'."
- KC's View:
It seems to me that the most important question Wegmans has to ask and answer each day is how they preserve and perpetuate a culture - one that is both rooted in the past but flexible enough to be relevant and resonant in the future - at a time when the company is growing so extensively.