Viewpoints

Publix's Success Confirms Business Book Theory

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SN has been presenting its annual Retail Excellence Award for the past eight years, and previous winners have included premier companies such as H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Kroger Co., Hy-Vee and Hannaford Bros.

But one highly regarded company not yet on the list has been Publix Super Markets — until now.

Publix is the 2010 winner, and it's a good thing we waited.

That's because during the economic downturn Publix, already one of the industry's most highly regarded companies, further stepped up its game.

A story available here outlines how Publix keeps the momentum going. It was written by Retail Editor Mark Hamstra based on his interview with Todd Jones, Publix president.

What's striking is how Publix's actions reflect so many of the elements highlighted in the best business books, in particular those by authors like Jim Collins, whose best sellers include “Good to Great” and “Built to Last.”

Collins writes about the need for companies to have a set of core values. Publix is all about “serving customers like kings and queens,” observed Jones, and those values relate back to the tone set by company founder George Jenkins some 80 years ago.

The best companies, according to Collins, have a culture of discipline in which employees feel they have a personal investment in the organization's success. That describes Publix very well, especially given that the retailer has a long history of operating as an ESOP, making employees into part owners.

Great companies tend to motivate and retain employees. Collins has referred to cult-like cultures (cult in a positive sense) in which employees are loyal, even fanatical, and on the same page. Publix has achieved some of this by focusing on developing and training associates and promoting its culture to them. It's sent a positive message by never once laying off an employee, not even in the recent economic downturn.

Publix also manages to continue growing at a time when many other businesses aren't. That's partly because Publix reflects another trait Collins refers to: being determined to evolve. The retailer's latest growth efforts include a soon-to-be launched hybrid store that melds its GreenWise organic format with its more conventional stores.

SN's award is more than just retailer of the year. It aims to honor companies that have a good shot at sustaining excellence.

Past winners exhibit some similar traits as Publix. For example, Hy-Vee, our 2006 honoree, is employee-owned and embraces its own unique culture. Kroger, the 2008 winner, is known for its strong management team, promotions from within and committed associates.

Of course, shoppers trolling the aisles in these stores are primarily looking for great produce or groceries rather than signs of superior business practices. They're more interested in stellar service and a pleasing environment than in having their supermarket win an award. But you have to think that on some level they know when their store is best of class all around.

Contributors

David Orgel

David Orgel is executive director, content & user engagement, of Supermarket News (SN) and its website, SupermarketNews.com. Orgel delivers his opinions on industry trends through a bi-weekly...

Carol Angrisani

Carol Angrisani is an associate editor at Supermarket News. Along with covering the packaged goods beat, she also manages SN’s annual private-label and ethnic marketing supplements. Carol...
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In their Viewpoints columns, SN editors give their perspectives on current industry issues.

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