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Merchandising: Execution Is Key at Wegmans

Few stores can afford to be as spectacular as Wegmans. But the Rochester, N.Y.-based retailer, whose stores draw praise for their innovative merchandising, nevertheless can provide an education for peers with smaller stores and more modest ambitions.

Industry experts asked by SN to assess merchandising tips that could be gleaned from Wegmans Food Markets suggested that retailers focus not so much on re-creating specific tactics employed at Wegmans, but rather to learn from the overarching philosophies that permit them. This, they say, can lead to improved perceptions on product quality, improved execution in stores, a sharper focus on customers, and greater sales and loyalty resulting from a more distinguished shopping experience.

One secret to Wegmans’ merchandising success is that it is driven by a commitment to emphasize the store as a trusted source for meal preparations, noted Jim Hertel, managing partner at Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.

“They do a number of great things — they are known for their fresh items and the way they present them in terms of the color, the way the bulk is facing front and the packaged stuff behind. The signage and the mirrors,” Hertel told SN. “But if it’s one idea that they do better than anyone, it’s identifying that mission for their customer, and then flawlessly executing it. It’s the execution that makes them so much better than the broad swath of retailers.”

Wegmans puts the full force of its organization against this mission, Hertel explained, using everything from product displays and adjacencies to features in its Menu magazine. Shoppers at Wegmans will find recipes in the magazine come to life on the aisles and shelves of the store in a way few retailers have the discipline to execute.

If the magazine includes a recipe for a dish like paella, Wegmans stores will create inviting displays featuring the varied ingredients. Shoppers will also find paella pans.

“Most retailers trying to get a display built that includes seafood, general merchandise, grocery items and produce items, it’s an act of God just to get that agreed to,” Hertel marveled. “And it’s a second act in order to get it executed.”

Marcia Schurer, president of Chicago-based food consultants Culinary Connections, said Wegmans’ merchandising demonstrates a commitment to quality and a love of food that other retailers can look to emulate. This comes across through well-trained and knowledgeable employees — another aspect of Wegmans’ game that can be learned from, she said.

“To be a great food merchandiser is to be a great foodie,” Schurer told SN. “And if you convey that love of food to your staff, they can then convey that love of food to your customers. That’s what retail is, and what it should be. But as a result of so many mergers and acquisitions and bankruptcies, many companies forgot that point of differentiation they once had.”

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