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Customer Relationships: Differentiation and Exceeding Expectations
By David Goldsmith   Printer Friendly Version

The talk around the business community is how to capture market share, find new customers and keep existing customers. Although these are not a new concepts, the speed of the new business environment brings the threat of new competition and structured hospitality and service go a long way to maintaining customers. Rochester based Wegmans, grocery stores chain, epitomizes the forward thinking and creative methods used to generate and keep business. The chain now 100 years old boasts almost 60 stores and the title to many as the "Disney" of the retail food industry. Wegmans is a dream come true for most corporations; create a company that has takes a simple product, such as groceries, and turns the product into an experience that generates over $2 billion in sales and employs 27,000. Wegmans has been awarded Forbes 59th best private company to work for in the US and the number 1 food retailer.

Occupying 2 ends of the spectrum, Wegmans occupies the traditional supermarket with twists on its "food departments" to the full-blown Supermarket experience. On the one end, their stores look like most typical, American supermarkets. Fresh produce, and small specialty aisles and departments make shoppers feel that they're getting extra value and are cared for by the company. On the other end of the spectrum, there are superstructures such as the Dewitt, NY location. The facility offers sushi, prepared by sushi chefs, precooked meals ranging from salmon to tofu, an entire organic section with loads of unique items. They even offer cooking lessons on how to prepare products as if you were in an infomercial. Every aisle, every detail and every service is aimed at servicing the needs of a broad customer base.

Imagine being asked to bring home dinner for the family. In the past, that might mean calling the pizza shop to save the 30-minute delivery time, or picking up Chinese from the neighborhood restaurants. That's all changed. One location now can feed the family to each member's heart's content. Today, the experience has been modified to picking up the eggs and milk (located in the front of the store for easy reach), a platter of sushi, chicken and broccoli and an already- roasted chicken to feed guests the following night. The "clincher:" prices are very similar to (or more economical than) a typical meal elsewhere. A video and flowers, from the same store, top off the experience. Wegmans even operates their own egg farms to eliminate salmonella and meat processing center to control quality. Corporations this size must concentrate on their employees for exceptional service as well as retention. In an industry known for high turnover and youth employment, Wegmans has done the impossible. They spend a tremendous amount on training and reward systems that keep the staff happy and understanding the direction of the company. The clerks even seem happy. Yesterday, I heard a story about a gentleman who was asked by his wife to bring home a few items on his way back from work at the Dewitt Wegmans.

After making the selection of $8.31 cents he realized he had left his wallet at home. Since shopping at the store for over a year, the Wegmans Manager recognized the gentleman and offered that it was all right to take the purchase home and come back at another date. That type of service has won the customer over for life. They have turned the mundane into the relationship. Wegmans has:

1. differentiated itself substantially from the competition.
2. created an exciting and memorable experience.
3. educated their customer for FREE.
4. catered to the mobile work force that needs a helping hand.
5. understood the new family looking to be individuals in a global world.
6. met the needs of finicky consumer with products not found elsewhere.
7. appeared to charge more for the same products bought from the competition.
8. rewarded their staff: with full family health care, retirement and vacation.
9. created add on sales: flowers, video, finished meals,
10. developed a relationship with their customers above the norm.

When challenged by the issue of being creative in building a business, there are cream of the crop corporations that have reinvented themselves to be top shelf. Wegmans is that type of super achiever.

David & Lorrie Goldsmith are founders of the Syracuse based MetaMatrix Consulting Group Inc. Their firm specializes in consulting and speaking services. They can be reached at 315-476-0510 888-777-8857 or emailed at dgoldsmith@davidgoldsmith.com

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