Excitement has been building as Publix Super Markets prepares to enter its first new market in more than 10 years. And no one is looking forward to the occasion more than CEO Ed Crenshaw.
“Having experienced relatively slow growth over the last few years, this decision has provided energy and excitement throughout Publix,” Crenshaw said of the 1,071-store chain’s imminent arrival in North Carolina in early 2014.
“Decisions like this require careful study and a commitment by everyone within the organization,” he said, adding that the company created a new North Carolina division to accommodate the expansion.
The growth comes as Publix enjoys strong sales and profits. In the most recent quarter, the chain recorded sales of $7.5 billion, a 6% increase; net earnings grew 15% to $471 million. Its employee-owned stock increased nearly $3 to $26.90 per share.
Times are rosy, but the environment remains challenging. In North Carolina, the chain will take on the hometown favorite, Harris Teeter, headquartered not far from the site of the first N.C. Publix store.
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There’s plenty going on in Publix’s core markets, too. There are new opportunities to pick up customers following the Delhaize America’s sale in May of its Sweetbay, Reid’s and Harveys banners in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to an acquisitive Bi-Lo; in Alabama, the chain successfully fought off Wal-Mart Stores’ campaign of aggressive price-comparison ads with its own “See for Yourself” initiative — which has since been rolled out to all divisions.
“We’re very aggressive with our promotions and value, providing our customers with the best deals possible,” said Crenshaw. “On average, we provide our customers with more than 40 buy-one, get-one-free deals each week.”
Customer service in all its guises is the foundation of Publix, and the past year has seen several significant enhancements designed to keep pace with the way shoppers interact with the retailer. Customers can now order their deli cold cuts and sandwiches online for in-store pickup; a new digital coupon program was launched; a new program makes it easier for customers to coordinate weekly store deals with manufacturer coupons; and a new smartphone app allows them to customize cakes.
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“Social media provides an important opportunity for us as retailers,” noted Crenshaw. “At Publix, we see social media as an extension of our in-store experience.”
Publix is employing social media to benefit itself. It has created a Facebook page specifically for job recruitment, and last September hosted an “Ask a Recruiter” Facebook chat with nearly 200 potential applicants. The retailer receives more than 1 million job applications each year.
This attention on customers and associates alike is a Publix standard. It’s no surprise, then, that the company led all food retailers in customer satisfaction again last year, in an annual survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
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