Wegmans frequently sent employees on training trips abroad to cultivate their interest in and knowledge of the food they sold. For instance, Carol Kent (Kent), the manager of the cheese department in the Pittsford, New York store, was sent to Italy to see how Parmesan cheese was made. Kent said that her trip not only enlightened her on the technical aspects of cheese-making, but also provided her with an opportunity to absorb the overal l experience. “We sat with the families, broke bread with them. It helps me understand that we‟re not just selling a piece of cheese. We‟re selling a tradition, a quality,” she said. 19 Employees were also sent to tour French patisseries to learn the intrica cies of French baking. Visits to California‟s Napa Valley, which was known for its wineries, were also common. All employees working in departments that involved frequent interaction with customers, especially the fresh food and meat departments, were required to undergo training (for up to 55 hours), so that they acquired a good understanding of the products they sold. Wegmans‟ employees often advised customers about food choices, and sometimes gave them tips on how to cook and serve the food they bought. For instance, employees in the cheese department could advise customers on the origins of each variety of cheese, the accompaniments that went best with each variety, and the wines that complemented them. They could even give suggestions on how to cut and serve each type of cheese. The objective behind all this was to ensure that customers did not just engage in routine grocery shopping at Wegmans – they also learnt more about the food they were buying. Wegmans had discovered that many people avoided buying new kinds of food because they did not known how to cook them; therefore it started conducting cooking classes in the stores to show customers how to cook different foods. “If we don‟t show our customers what to do with our products, they won‟t buy th em,” said Daniel Wegman. “It‟s our knowledge that can help the customer.” 20 Wegmans acknowledged that knowledgeable employees were its main strength. The company believed that encouraging employees to acquire deep knowledge about the food they sold differentiated it from its competitors. According to Daniel Wegman, knowledgeable employees were “something our competitors don‟t have and our customers couldn‟t get anywhere else.” 21 In his words, “Wal -Mart is the fastest-growing food retailer out there. How do we differentiate ourselves? If we can sell products that require knowledge in terms of how you use them, that‟s our strategy. Anything that requires knowledge and service gives us a reason to be.” 22 By encouraging employees to make a difference to the custom ers‟ shopping experience, Wegmans created a competency that could not be easily replicated at other supermarkets.
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- Management, Rochester, New York, Wegmans Food Markets, Robert Wegman, Danny Wegman, Wegmans’ Work Culture