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Monday Morning Moment – A Store Opens and a Business Thrives – Thanks to a Decades-Old Business Philosophy Still Relevant Today

In all the years I’ve known Dave’s Uncle Bob, he made grocery shopping and restaurant meals more like field trips. He was a grocer for many years and then owned and operated restaurants later in life. Never meeting a stranger and one of the most kindly and engaged men I’ve ever known, he would talk to anyone who was willing. About the store/restaurant design, why the particular products or menu items, taking everything in through his experienced and cultivated senses. Then we would talk about it. “Do you see how they….?” “You know what she said about….?” I learned so much from him about customer service, product presentation, and business practices. He had a terrific understanding about what makes for excellence.

I think Uncle Bob and Mr. George could have had great talks.

George W. Jenkins, Jr. was the founder of Publix Supermarkets. He opened his first Publix food store in 1930, during the Great Depression. He and his store associates managed to make it through that trying time when so many businesses suffered or closed.

Last week, I attended the family night before the Grand Opening of another Publix Supermarket in Richmond, Va. We now have them all over the city, but they only arrived here in 2017. Richmond has several grocery store chains, and I wasn’t sure how Publix would do…but…it has prospered.

I learned much about the store at that pre-grand opening family night (store employees are called associates and the family night was for families of this latest store’s associates). The store was ready to go. Groceries, produce, prepared foods, meat and dairy were all in place in gleaming cases. For the families, snack stations were set up all over the store. It was yummy! Then we were gathered for the welcomes and introductions of different department leads. There was a prayer which I thought unusual but special. Then Mr. George’s name was often spoken as different individuals talked about how special Publix was to them through the years. The company seems not to have experienced mission drift in all these 89 years since the first store opening.

Todd Jones, the CEO of Publix Supermarkets, was present as well as several other regional executives. There was much applause as he asked for a show of hands of those who had worked for Publix from less than a year on up. Two persons had worked for 45 years at Publix. One of them had started as a bag boy, like Todd Jones himself. Whenever possible, Publix promotes from within. It was neat to see how employees could very naturally rise to the top as they took opportunity for training and leading over years of work.

I picked up a little booklet at the welcome table. It was entitled Lessons From Our Founder – Publix’s Founder George W. Jenkins. Here they are listed below:

  • Invest in others. – Publix is the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the US. Every employee (even parttimers after 1000 hrs. can buy stock. Ownership brings its own desire for excellence.
  • Give back. – Mr. George was a philanthropist throughout his life as a successful businessman. Once asked, “Mr. George, how much do you think you’d be worth today if you hadn’t give so much away?” His immediate response was: “Probably nothing.”
  • Prepare for opportunity. – Publix employees, or associates, have opportunities from the beginning to apply themselves toward excellence and future job advancement.
  • Be there. – Mr. George knew the importance of being present in his stores. CEO Todd Jones follows his example in attending store openings and celebrating associates’ advancement. Being there, at all levels, matters.
  • Respect the dignity of the individual. – Mr. George also always had an open door policy. He welcomed ideas. He allowed for mistakes. He cared about the associates. Each person brought something special to the work.
  • Treat customers like royalty. – This, for all of us customers, is the best part. No matter how beautiful the stores are or how good the food is…how we are treated is why we come back.

Do the right thing. – That was Mr. George’s summary on his business philosophy.

What company out there would not profit from such a corporate philosophy?

Finally, in case you don’t have a Publix in your city but run across one in your travels: the best cakes and fried chicken in our town now!

In the Words of Mr. George – Jennifer B.