Wegmans is a great grocery store because it’s a great employer

For many Brooklyners, 2017 can’t come soon enough.
For many Brooklyners, 2017 can’t come soon enough.
Image: AP/Alex Brandon
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New York City residents familiar with Wegmans, a popular supermarket chain concentrated in upstate New York and the mid-Atlantic region, were ecstatic at the news that the company plans to open a store in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2017. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s an excellent grocery retailer, welcome in a city where the options for everyday grocery shopping tend to be either highly limited, low in quality, or hideously expensive—and sometimes all of the above.

Perhaps even more notable than the Wegmans retail experience, though, is Wegmans’ management culture and the way this privately held, family-run chain, founded in 1916, treats employees.

It’s been on Fortune’s list of the best places to work since the list started in 1998. It ranked number one in 2005, usually cracks the top 10, and is nearly always the highest-rated retailer in the bunch.

The company’s obsessive attention to training—employees must have 40 hours’ worth before they can start interacting with customers—comes from a management philosophy that is based on giving employees autonomy, so that the staff feels empowered to do just about anything, without consulting a manager first, to make sure customers leave happy. Wegmans also offers generous health benefits, pays out nearly $5 million a year in tuition assistance for employees, and sends workers around the country and the world to learn more about wine, cheese, or meat.

Wegmans cites its investment in employees as one of the things that helps it compete in any market. Low turnover helps lower labor costs, in addition to helping to maintain the company’s famously excellent customer service. Fortune puts Wegmans’ turnover rate at about 17% for all employees—including part-time, hourly workers—and as low as 4% for full-time employees. Compare that to Walmart, America’s largest grocery retailer, where the turnover rate is closer to 40%. (Walmart recently raised wages in an attempt to stall turnover.) On average, retail turnover (paywall) is 66% for part-time employees, and 27% for full timers.

Most promotions at Wegmans are internal, and half of the company’s store managers started working for the company as teenagers.

Competition for job openings at Wegmans can be stiff—for example, it reportedly had 10,000 applications for 500 jobs at a Pennsylvania store a few years ago. The New York Times reports (paywall) that the new store in Brooklyn will create 600 jobs, 200 of them full-time. Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman tells the paper that for the first two weeks it interviews prospective hires for the new store in Brooklyn, the company will exclusively see candidates from the three public housing projects that are located close to the site.