If Robert Wegman, the man the New York Times called "a pioneer of one-stop shopping," walked into one of his grocery stores and saw long lines of customers waiting at the checkout, he’d stand in the front of the store with his arms crossed until someone noticed.
“You did not want to be the person that noticed,” said Mary Ellen Burris, senior vice president of consumer affairs at Wegmans. She has worked for the grocery store chain for 40 years. “We are not known for long lines.”
At a meeting in April, Wegmans officials discussed what made their grocery stores so popular, and that popularity isn't in dispute. For the past three years, Wegmans has topped Consumer Reports’ list of best grocery stores in America.
Officials said the keys to their success are short checkout lines, low price quality food and an emphasis on caring for their employees and customers.
Stores have a rule of thumb that there should be no more than two people in a checkout line, one person checking out and another behind. If there are more, another line will be opened.
Wendy Webster, the Columbia store manager, said lines may be bad on , which is June 17.
“The crowds are enormous” when a store opens, but after about a month they shouldn’t be a problem, she said.
As for low prices, the company released its summer “price freeze” product list in April. Wegmans uses price freezes to guarantee a certain price for products over a period time, even if the products’ costs go up.
Until Aug. 25, prices on items such as Wegmans 40 oz. ketchup ($1.59), chicken breasts ($1.99/lb) and seedless cucumbers, 3-pack ($3.99) will be locked in at that price. A full list is posted on their website.
Jo Natale, director of media relations, said the key to Wegmans low prices is that unlike traditional supermarkets, which she said charge a relatively high price for products and then drop prices during a sale, Wegmans keeps products at a consistently low price.
“You don’t have to worry about chasing the best price,” said Natale.
Wegmans entry into other Maryland markets has spurred what . A Giant in Abingdon renovated its store and expanded the organic food section when Wegmans came to town. In Prince George's County, three Safeway stores closed down in 2011, less than a year after Wegmans opened.
The supermarket chain is owned by the Wegman family. Danny Wegman is the CEO and Colleen Wegman, Danny's daughter, is president. When asked if Wegmans had any plans to become a publicly held company, there was a resounding no from the seven officials gathered in the room.
“Part of our success is that we can concern ourselves with our people and our customers,” said Burris. “When you’re publicly held, you have a third concern.”
She said the company has no interest in being beholden to stockholders.
“We have an amazing group of people from our corporate people, from our operations to our service folks,” said Mike Gorsky, district manager for Maryland. “That’s what makes us a very community or neighborhood store.”
Colleen Wegman said in a 2007 interview with the Rochester Business Journal that despite success, the company plans to grow at a slow, controlled rate, opening a few stores per year.
"We grow at a controlled rate," said Wegman. "Everything that we make goes right back into the business. That's because we're not in business to make money; we're in business to make a difference in people's lives. We believe in what we do; we love what we do."
In 2012, Wegmans was ranked as the fourth best company to work for by Fortune magazine.
“We’re hiring 650 people from this community,” said Gorksy. “It’s their Wegmans.”
Also during the April meeting, Wegmans about the new Columbia store, opening June 17 on the 8800 block of McGraw Road.