Who cares about a grocery store?! The first day Wegmans was opened, 24,000 lined the store front. Hundreds of fans, some bearing shirts labeled "Wegmaniac" stood outside the door overnight in order to be one of the first customers to enter the store. The grocery chain has a bit of a cult following and a facebook search yields dozens of campaigns of rabid shoppers begging for the store to be brought their community. So many wanted to work for the company that over 3,000 applicants were rejected.
So a brief look at statistics would tell you that Virginia is bonkers for the popular shopping destination. Wegmans recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and Richmond is its 89th store. The long-standing success of the chain from humble beginnings, a penchant for keeping in touch with tradition while also innovating to match the times, and some crazy viral marketing in the digital era make Wegmans growth techniques a great pulse check for writers who want to grow their own reader relationships.
Wegmans started as a small grocery store with a roaming vegetable cart in upstate New York in 1916 and within a few years the Wegman family store was 20,000 feet and contained an innovative cafeteria filled with fresh food along with technological advances that were unique in stores of the time such as mechanical produce sprayers that are a fixed mainstay of our markets today.
In 2015 Wegmans won the Harris Poll #1 spot for corporate reputation. This is one of many awards, including being named Fortune's #1 Company to Work For in 2005 and making the top 10 list of Fortune 500 many times. Whether or not you are a "maniac" its clear Wegmans has been doing something right from a marketing standpoint.
Now I'll admit I'm a bit of a rabid Wegmans fan myself as part of a multi-generational family who shopped at the original stores in upstate New York. From the age of 16 and continuing until I received my graduate degree at 24 I worked off and on for several Wegmans stores in customer service and as a patisserie assistant.
I think there are dozens of marketing strategies to be gained from examining Wegmans. Here are a few of the reasons Wegmans has such a large fan base and how understanding their strategies can help you build your own:
1) "Every day you get our best."
I'll admit this is a hokey slogan but it started with the early days when only the freshest produce was sold on the street carts. Part of why I was excited for the arrival of Wegmans in my city is some of my past produce experiences at several national chains. I was excited to join a pick-up service at my local superstore only to cut into several of the vegetables for stirfry and find black mold. I've seldom experienced this at Wegmans and when I have I have been immediately offered an alternative and the produce removed from the shelves. When we worked in the bakery we were trained in choosing the top berries and peaches for our pastries.
Do your readers get your best? Whether its in your books, your blog posts, your social media be known for excellence. Your reputation precedes you in all things.
2) Build enthusiam for your product.
The day before opening (which is a stressful time for any retail business) Wegmans will have a local marching band in and have a pep rally for its new employees in an effort to build team spirit. The store even has their own cheer which the managers lead as the main doors open the first morning. Honestly, I think this is all a little nutty, but something can be learned from it. The corporate culture is one that builds enthusiasm. In my college years working at Wegmans, there were often small celebrations to mark store victories: new records achieved, an award for the company-at-large. Sometimes it was a catered lunch, a cake and punch toast, or a tee-shirt or another small reward. These small things helped us feel part of a bigger picture. Let your readers know how much you value them and how your success is due to them!
Celebrate your readers and the victories along your way. When you achieve a victory: a new contract, 10K hits on your website, a certain number of likes on your facebook fan page let the readers reap the rewards. Offer eproducts, contests, copies of your releases. Be generous as you can afford. Readers love celebrating with you! And where is any writer without their noble reader?
3) Be willing to step aside for others.
Wegmans made a decision that I believe may have eased its advent into the local market even further. They refused a business deal in our city in past years in order to protect a family-owned business. Wegman's respect for the business was due to the fact, they too, have been family and privately owned since 1916. Being kind to others is never a mistake. Each day make it a point to help others out during your time on social media. Remember that writing is a ministry, first of all and listen for the people God is putting in your life in order for you to bless.
4) Offer something unique in a saturated market.
The prices at Wegmans aren't always the lowest. What they are known for is customer service and innovation. The chain is given kudos for offering ready-meal options packaged together along with recipes. In-store restaurants of several varieties, make your own pizza and subs, and loads of samples are a few of the things you will find every time you walk into a store. What do you offer that's unique, your flavor in an overflowing market?
5) Keep ahead of the trends, but stay known for your traditional values.
Every company has a code of ethics that drives them, but we are fortunate to have God's Holy word as our complete guidebook for all we face in life. Let's make sure to seek His face for each individual decision knowing that our career or writing life won't look like someone else's.
6) Ask what does the reader want.
In the newspaper article interviewing the store manager, he asked the customers to be sure to let him know if there was a product they wanted. They delivered on that promise. I asked for a favorite and visited the store less than a week later to find it on the shelves. Customer comment cards are all over the stores and the service representatives make it a point to call or email with further information within a week.
Do you deliver on what you promise? Do you care what your reader wants? How often do you ask what they are looking for in your fiction, website, etc? Are you prompt in responding to your reader's emails?
7) Offer small sweet incentives for readers.
Store openings are always fun because they offer a small extra. In this case, samples were all around the store, coupons abounded, a free magazine with recipes and a free bottle of seasoned olive oil were given to customers as an incentive for signing up for a shoppers club. Do you have an exclusive reader club? What little things can you offer your readers? A mini ebook you make especially for them? Discounts? Excerpts from your latest story? Some recipes or special photos? The sky's the limit.
I personally always get excited when I see pre-release digital goodies for books and am more apt to purchase the book early. Recipes from the book, an extra chapter, a study guide, even a poster are simple little things that are exciting for the reader.
Are you offering the reader your best everyday when it comes to marketing and social media? Wegmans has built its popularity by following a variety of strategies that I think could benefit the general reader.
Julia Reffner lives in central Virginia and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction. You can find her work in Library Journal magazine and at Wonderfully Woven, a devotional site for women.