Brand Love for Wegmans: Nice Beat, You Can Dance to It
CNBC.com News Editor
When was the last time you heard of brand love so strong, it inspired customers to break into song?
More specifically, when was the last time you heard of brand love for a GROCERY STORE so strong, it inspired customers to break into song?
Well that’s exactly what happened when Wegmans, a northeast grocery chain with a cult-like devoted following, decided to open a store in Northborough, Mass.
There was so much buzz when the store, the first in Massachusetts, opened last fall — 2,000 people were in line at 7 a.m. for opening day including a few who camped out and one man who proposed to his girlfriend in the café aisle — that Maura Morrison, the drama teacher at Algonquin Regional High School, decided to create “Wegmans: The Musical.”
“I was just feeling all around me the excitement and buzz about Wegmans,” Morrison told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “It seemed like an event. It seemed like a good idea to create a musical about it."
The musical is about two brothers: One’s a manager at Wegmans and the other works a manager at Acme Food Store. The one who works at Acme sends a spy to sabotage the Wegmans store. The spy winds up falling in love with Wegmans — and a Wegmans employee! Hilarity ensues.
Wegmans ranked No. 1 in a recent survey on the nation’s favorite grocery chainsby Consumer Reports, beating out other fan faves Trader Joe's, Publix and Fareway, which came in Nos. 2 through 4, respectively. It is also routinely ranked in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For — and not just the top 100 but generally in the top 5. (They were No. 4 on the 2012 list.)
I grew up in Rochester, headquarters of Wegmans, and after college moved to New York City, where grocery chains that ranked among the worst on that Consumer Reports list are in abundance, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the brand love had gone so far, it inspired a musical.
All you have to do is whisper the word Wegmans in New York City and someone you don’t know will inevitably pop up and say, “Did you just say Wegmans? Where is there a Wegmans?”
Wegmans stores are the size of a Walmart , have the huge selection of an A&P or Pathmark, plus the gourmet offerings of a Whole Foods at Trader Joe’s prices. The stores are clean and the staff is friendly.
Those people who camped out for the store opening in Northborough? They weren’t kids like you see at Apple stores for new product launches. Some were doctors and nurses from Rochester who now work at Massachusetts General Hospital who camped out in a Winnebago, said Bill Congdon, New England division manager for Wegmans.
Can you guess what the No. 1 question is that they get at 1-800-WEGMANS?
“Can you open a store in our area?” Congdon said, adding that most people choose a grocery store three to four miles from their house, but Wegmans customers are happy to drive 20 or 30. The Northborough store drew customers from downtown Boston, 39 miles to the east.
“What I love the most is their $6/$8/$10 meals. They are perfect for singles, families and everyone in between. We practically live on them during our daughter’s softball season!” said Michelle Rogers, the assistant deputy to the president for administration and research at the University of Rochester who also, incidentally, went to my high school.
Though, most Wegmans fans say it’s not so much one particular item they like as much as the store experience.
A colleague I’d never met before popped up recently when he overheard me talking about a recent trip to Wegmans. Turns out he’s also from Rochester. Alas, there isn’t a store near where he lives in New Jersey, so I offered to pick up something for him the next time I was there.
“Thanks, but there’s nothing specific I want from there. I just wanted to go and walk around,” he said.
Another colleague recently confessed that she scouts real estate for Wegmans and sends them suggestions for new store locations.
Wegmans was thrilled when they heard that a musical was made about the store.
“We were honored to be recognized by not only the kids at Algonquin Regional High School but also by the people of the New England area,” Congdon said.
One of the things customers routinely say they love about Wegmans is the customer service. Congdon said they intentionally seek new employees with great attitudes and then give them a lot of customer-service training — not just about how to greet people but what all the products are about and how to explain them to customers. Plus, they offer college scholarships and work hard to make it a fun place to work.
"Robert Wegman (son of founder Walter Wegman), who passed away in 2006, had a philosophy that we still adhere to today: ‘Take care of your employees and your employees will take care of your customers,” Congdon explained.
When Wegmans found out that the kids from Algonquin Regional High School were doing a musical inspired by the grocery chain, they invited the teacher and some students for a tour of Wegmans to get some inspiration.
Then, Congdon drove over there himself with some authentic Wegmans props including shirts, chefs’ hats, shopping carts and signs.
“I drove it over there in my truck, Congdon said matter-of-factly, like driving props over to a high school was a regular part of the regional manager’s job.
“I asked if some of the kids could come out to help me carry it in — the whole drama class came out to help me!” Congdon said.
A bunch of employees are planning to go see the play, which is scheduled for Thursday May 10 at 8 p.m., and bring the kids some sandwiches, chips and pop (that’s how you say it in Rochester) to celebrate after the play.
“We just thought it was fun. Kind of cool. We wanted to be involved,” he said.
And, go figure – it isn’t even the first performance inspired by the grocery chain. Last year, a Second City troupe performing at Rochester’s Geva Theater did a whole skit about living in Wegmans.
Imagine how many people they’d have camping out for that, if they started offering a chance to LIVE at Wegmans!
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