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Joe Henderson: Publix formula for success: Cleanliness, competence & consistency

I often shop at a Publix supermarket located about a mile and a half from my house. The store is clean, well-stocked, and the fried chicken is to die for. At least that’s what my doctor said could happen if I didn’t cut back on it a little.

Still pondering that last one.

I mention this because Fortune magazine has ranked the Lakeland-based grocery behemoth No. 12 on its list of the 100 best places to work in the country. It also ranked Publix No. 1 in the big-company category.

Let us each raise a chicken wing in salute.

In its review, Fortune said:

“This gargantuan grocer offers aisles full of perks: tuition reimbursement, a stock purchase program (that is) open to all employees, and even on-site ESL (English as Second Language) classes at many locations.”

The magazine reported that 89 percent of its employees say it’s a great place to work. That’s a phenomenal number, but this company seems to operate on the theory that satisfied employees are more likely to lead to satisfied customers.

Radical thought, eh?

But let’s break it down, starting with the company’s famous “Publix, where shopping is a pleasure” slogan.

First impressions count: The Publix stores I’ve been in (there are several nearby) share the common trait of cleanliness. I’m not saying other chains don’t have clean stores, but Publix usually takes it up a notch.

And I’ve never had a shopping cart there that had a wobbly wheel. Some other chains (looking at you, Super Walmart) apparently don’t spend a lot of time on cart maintenance. A wheel will pull hard in one direction or the other, or it won’t roll at all.

Never had that problem at Publix.

Helpful worker bees: You can tell Publix emphasizes customer service. If I need help finding something, a smiling worker will lead me to the item instead of pointing and saying, “I think it’s on aisle 3, or maybe 5.”

Consistency counts: You know what you’re going to get with Publix. The store I use doesn’t seem to move items around from location to location like some other places do, so you know where to find the cans of Chunky sausage gumbo when you’re in a hurry. Sometimes it’s more expensive, but the BoGo specials help mitigate that.

Nobody’s perfect: Publix officials were embarrassed last year when news broke that top company officials had donated more than $600,000 to Republican GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam. This was in the aftermath of the Parkland massacre and Putnam’s infamous “I’m a proud NRA sellout” tweet.

There was a strong backlash against Publix, along with loud calls for boycotts of the store. But even then the company handled it the right way, with a statement that said, “As a result of this situation, we are evaluating our processes to ensure that our giving better reflects our intended desire to support a strong economy and a healthy community.”

Class, what have we learned? Businesses, large or small, could learn a lot by studying how Publix treats its employees.

Train them well. Give them reasonable expectations and goals. Pay them a liveable wage. Provide decent benefits, which Publix does.

Concentrate on cleanliness, competence and consistency.

And make sure the fried chicken is hot and crispy.

It’s not that complicated.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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