Countless business books claim to offer the best approaches to explaining company excellence. They point to eight core criteria, 12 standard attributes, or some other such variation on the theme.
There's really no one best formula. I find it easiest to think of excellence in terms of a single element that helps define everything else about a company. That element typically varies with each organization.
In this issue, SN presents its 2005 Retail Excellence Award to Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine, which follows our awards to H.E. Butt Grocery Co. in 2003 and Kroger in 2004. A profile of Hannaford appears on Page 12, including details of the award criteria and the date and location of the presentation.
What drives excellence at Hannaford, and how does that contrast with prior winners H-E-B and Kroger? Excellence at Hannaford is all about discipline. In this week's article, Pierre Olivier Beckers, chairman and CEO of Hannaford parent Delhaize America, said the New England chain takes a disciplined approach to all its endeavors. That seems to influence everything from the development of associate talent to communications with shoppers. Hannaford has produced a remarkably self-sustaining system for training and advancing associates. Its talent pool has supported not only its own company, but also Delhaize's other U.S. retailers, including Food Lion and Kash n' Karry/ Sweetbay. Hannaford's Retail Management Training Program puts college graduates and others through an intensive program that eventually qualifies them for store management. Top executives emphasize cross training for associates seeking to advance.
Discipline also drives the company's interaction with consumers. Systematic methods include telephone interviews, in-person exit interviews in stores, and online polling with a group of about 2,000 customers. The feedback has been invaluable in fortifying the chain against Wal-Mart and enhancing the shopping experience.
Now to contrast Hannaford's approach with that of H-E-B and Kroger. Certainly both H-E-B and Kroger are not lacking in the discipline department. But different attributes come to mind in explaining their success. In the case of H-E-B, I wrote in a 2003 column that the retailer is an honor student of food retailing and of its Texas communities. That means being an expert in its operating regions, excelling at local marketing, embracing community service and dedicating itself to food excellence.
My take on Kroger is again different. In a column accompanying last year's award, I likened Kroger to a star in the reality show of food retailing. This giant retailer has managed to overcome numerous challenges across its far-flung operating regions by improvising and strategizing in an innovative fashion, all the while being in the glare of the public financial markets.
Granted, my approach to explaining company excellence isn't quantitative or scientific. But it has a distinct advantage. By focusing on a single element -- honor student, reality star, master of discipline -- it personifies an organization by creating an image we are likely to remember. In my book, excellence is all about being uncomplicated and memorable.