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Wegmans, the Rochester, NY-based 67-store supermarket chain, has been named by Fortune magazine as the best company in America to work for, topping a list of 100 companies that included eight other retailers – four of them in the food/beverage business.

It is the eighth year that Wegmans made the list; the retailer is one of just 22 companies that have been on it since it began being compiled.

Other food retailers on the list are Starbucks (# 11), Stew Leonard’s (# 29), Whole Foods Market (# 30), and Publix (# 94). Retailers in other areas that made the list include The Container Store (# 15), Ikea North America (# 62), Men’s Wearhouse (# 85) and Nordstrom (# 88).

Food industry-related companies that also made the list include JM Smucker (# 6), General Mills (# 58), Procter & Gamble (# 66), Wrigley (# 77), and Valassis (# 100).

Wegmans chairman Robert Wegman said, “This is the culmination of my whole life’s work. When I became president of our company in 1950, after working in our stores for a number of years, I was determined to make it a great place to work.” The company noted that the first step was to raise all salaries, and within a couple of years, implementing fully paid health care. Later, the company added a defined contribution retirement plan, a 401K plan and an employee scholarship program, which has given nearly $54 million in tuition assistance to 17,000 employees since it began in 1984.

“No matter how much we invest in our people, we get much more in return,” said Wegman. “When I visit our stores, customers stop me and say, ‘Mr. Wegman you have a great store, but wow, your people are wonderful.”

Danny Wegman, president of the company, said, “We have tried to create an environment where our people’s ideas are listened to and where they feel empowered to make decisions that impact their work.”

Stew Leonard’s, which made the list for the fourth year in a row, was the second ranked supermarket retailer on the list at # 29, was awarded the fifteenth spot on the “best small companies to work for” list )fewer than 2,000 employees) broken out by Fortune.

“We can not be more thrilled or proud of our team members for this achievement,” said Stew Leonard Jr., president of the three-store company. “Stew Leonard’s can do our part and offer great pay and benefits, training and support for our employees, but the secret ingredient is the teamwork, positive attitude and commitment of our people. They consistently create a fun work environment, where everyone is on a first name basis, is respected and genuinely loves what they do. Happy people, means happy customers, and our team members are a huge reason why we have been successful as a company for 35 years.”
KC's View:
Think, for a moment, about the retailers listed as the best places to work.

Wegmans. Stew Leonard’s. Publix. Starbucks. Whole Foods. The Container Store. Nordstrom. And on and on.

Without exception, these also are great places to shop.

That’s not a coincidence.

At a time when so many companies seem to be devaluing labor as an expense rather than an asset, it is nice to see that some retailers, at least, are doing the opposite. They are realizing that employees are on the front lines of the battle for customers and sales, and that happy, fulfilled and rewarded employees do a much better job in the long run.

What is so amazing about the Wegmans story is not that they are number
one. It's that they might well be the most admired as well as one of the most profitable. Yet the company pays benefits and living wages.

You have to wonder why more retailers, faced with competitive pressures and eroding market shares, don’t look to companies like these for inspiration, using them as positive role models in their own retail environments.

Of course, the reason may be that these devolving companies are so focused on cutting costs and achieving efficiencies that they’ve forgotten about being effective…and that they don’t see the people who work for them as effective tools against the long, slow decline into irrelevance.

Wegmans, Stew Leonard’s and the rest are to be congratulated for their vision and their implementation.