Publix is Putting Service First in Super Market War: Forbes

Publix is the largest employee-owned company and the most profitable grocer in America with 1,073 stores - 755 of which are in Florida.

Wednesday, Jul 24, 2013  |  Updated 4:27 PM EDT
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Publix is using its service-first attitude to lead the super market wars, Forbes magazine reported.

Publix is the largest employee-owned company and the most profitable grocer in America with 1,073 stores, 755 of which are in Florida, Forbes reported.

It averages $27.5 billion in sales, and its largest collective shareholders are its cashiers, baggers and butchers, according to Forbes.

The Lakeland-based company has been doing this since it was founded 83 years ago by George Jenkins, who left his job at a Winter Haven Piggly Wiggly to open up a rival store. He gave shares to its early employees to win their loyalty, Forbes reported.

When Jenkins stepped down in 1989, the company had 367 stores in Florida with $5.3 billion in sales. At that time, Wal-Mart was entering the grocery business.

"We knew how Wal-Mart was getting special deals from manufacturers, and in order to compete we had to increase our buying power," Jenkins' son Howard told the magazine, which meant opening stores outside of Florida.

Publix's plan was to have a full-service experience, including baggers, greeters and aisle helpers.

In fact, the company's president, Todd Jones, still picks up trash from the store's floor.

"We believe that there are three ways to differentiate: service, quality and price,"Jones, who started as a bagger 33 years ago, told the magazine. "You've got to be good at two of them, and the best at one. We make service our number one, then quality and then price."

But Wal-Mart, who has taken over every other market in the South, is targeting Florida. It has 239 locations with grocery departments in Florida, and it prides itself on savings.

"We're not surprised that the competition doesn't like it when we tell customers to compare prices and see for themselves, but we think consumers deserve every chance to find value," a Wal-Mart spokesman said of an ad campaign that shows local moms saving dollars at Wal-Mart. "We won't apologize for offering low prices or telling customers to compare prices for themselves."

Publix might also see competition from Kroger, who picked up its first Florida location in July after pulling out in 1988, the magazine reported. The two stores already compete in Atlanta, and soon they will be competitors in North Carolin when Publix opens a store next year.

However, Publix remains unfazed. It beat out Winn-Dixie, who filed for Chapter 11 in 2005, and Albertsons only has four stores left in Florida, the magazine reported.

Still, Publix is trying to boost margins, and in 2007 opened a prescription-drug program. It also opened its GreenWise Market.

Its newest innovation is Aprons Cooking School, which is in eight supermarkets and teaches classes like Grilling Fish 101 and A Vegetarian's Journey Through India, the magazine reported. Publix also started a buy one get one free program on at least 40 items a week.

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