By Rashaan Anderson
When pulling up to the parking lot of my local Publix supermarket, the first thing I notice is how employees are taking customers’ groceries out to their cars. I have never seen any store carry out groceries before. I could tell, just from the outside, that Publix is different from other stores. Once inside, you are immediately greeted with a “Hello, welcome to Publix.”
But it doesn’t stop there. As I was walking through an aisle looking for seasoning, I noticed an employee working. As soon as I walked by he asked, “Are you finding everything O.K?” I had been in the store less than 5 minutes and already I felt more important than any other store I had been too. When it was time to check out, the cashier and bagger both asked how I was, in a manner that seemed like we were all good friends. This kind of “royal treatment” is what store founder, George Jenkins, wants for every single customer since he started Publix in 1930
The first Publix Food Store made its grand appearance on September 6, 1930 in Winter Haven, Florida. In the first four years, Publix Food Store made a profit of $120,000 all off of sales and was able to open a second store in 1935. For most companies, the 1930s was a hellish period due to The Great Depression. A time where businesses were shutting down left and right and unemployment was at an all-time high. But Jenkins was determined not to let Publix become a statistic because of the Depression. Instead, Jenkins wanted to weather the storm and keep his business dreams alive.
Jenkins’ determination paid off in 1940 with the opening of the first Publix Supermarket. The additions of innovations like fluorescent lighting, electric eye doors, terrazzo floors and in-store music made Publix stand out among other supermarkets. Customers were so impressed by the look and feel of being treated like royalty, it was dubbed, “the food palace.”
Fast forward to the 1950s and Publix was becoming the talk of the town, or state in this case. So much so that in 1951, a 125,000 square-foot warehouse and headquarters complex was built in Lakeland, Florida, to keep up with the rapid expansion of the company. In 1969, there were 150 stores in Florida. The more stores that opened, the more profits Publix acquired. By 1969, the stock value of Publix was worth $44. A huge number considering that the first Publix supermarket opened just 20 years earlier.
From then on, Publix continued to grow and get better with time and compete with other major supermarket companies. Between 1951 and 1982, Publix began providing different services to its customers with the additions of a deli, bakery, seafood and floral departments. In 1982, the first Publix opened up outside of Florida in Savannah, Georgia. South Carolina acquired its first Publix in 1993. Another big milestone in the short history of Publix was that in 2009, Publix opened its 1,000th store in St. Augustine, Florida. With this opening, Publix became one of five stores in the United States to reach this milestone
Today, Publix has a total of 1,147 supermarkets and continues to grow. With each Publix, comes an extensive list of awards including being ranked No.3, by Indeed.com, for best job security and being No.1, according to Fortune, as the best company to work for. Jason Vermillion, the current manager of the Publix store on Kennerly Crossing in Irmo, South Carolina, says that all of the awards that Publix has won, have something in common. “Every award is based on George Jenkins’ mission statement.”
The first part of the mission statement focuses passionately on customer values. This is the biggest factor that sets Publix apart from other supermarkets. If you don’t believe me, read the company slogan, “Where shopping is a pleasure.” Publix is dedicated to pleasing all of its customers’ needs whether it is checking prices, special ordering items or just offering a smile. Publix goes above and beyond of its customers.
Customers, like Shannon LaFrance, are willing to drive pass four to five other supermarkets just to come to shop at Publix. “There is just a vibe about Publix that is so unique and welcoming that I much rather prefer to drive 10 minutes to go my local Publix.” LaFrance also added that the quality of food is top notch over other stores.
Part two of the mission statement is being intolerant of waste. In 2016, Publix donated around 29 million pounds of bakery products to local donation places like Harvest Hope and Feeding America. Publix is also very responsible in terms of recycling materials and promoting saying the environment, hence the theme of green that Publix is known for.
Mission statement No.3 deals with the dignity, value and employment security of the associates. No company can survive without the hard work of the employees and Publix is considered the best retaining and gaining associates. One big reason is the benefits that can be acquired for both part-time and full-time employees. Benefits like health insurance, dental care and even start saving for retirement.
Elizabeth Eells, who worked for Publix for 5 years, says that benefits are what sold her. “Where else could I start saving for retirement after just one year of working?” Publix is also a company that is always promoting from within. For example, if a customer service staff member leaves, a cashier who has been with the company for some years could be trained to work the customer service desk.
The fourth mission statement is giving stockholders the highest standards of stewardship. Publix is a privately-owned company, meaning that only active associates and members of the Board of Directors can buy Publix stock. George Jenkins had the belief that if employees owned Publix, they would care about what happens to it.
The final mission statement is being responsible citizens in the communities. At least 5 times a year, Publix gathers donations for charities like Special Olympics, Food for Sharing, Habitat for Humanity and for Harvest Hope Food Bank just to name a few.
While Publix has had its fair share of success, based on its reputation and dedication to the customers, there have been some failures. One of these being PublixDirect.
Launched in September 2001, PublixDirect was once believed to have been the “future of grocery shopping.” The thought of ordering food and it being delivered to the comfort of one’s own home, was thought to have been Publix’s “golden ticket.” Instead, in 2003, it was shut down due to the lack of demand in the area. Both of these failures cost Publix millions of dollars.
Publix has endured a number of complaints, from employees and loyal customers alike, about Publix being too “nice” to customers. Publix has a policy called the “Publix Promise.” It states that if a customer has any complaints about a product or if a price is higher than advertised, then customers can return the product, with their receipt, and they can get their money back in full.
The problem comes when customers intentionally damage products and then return them and are still able to get a refund. Not only does it put in question every customer that returns items, but it also makes people wonder where the line is drawn in terms of what customers can get away with. \
Despite these failures and critical complaints, Publix has been able to maintain and even grow its customer base. With more and more Publix stores continuing to be built every year, not only across the South, but even the southeastern part of the states, it is hard to see Publix dropping off anytime soon. In the end, Publix is one of the fastest growing and most profitable supermarket companies in the United States for a reason. Top-notch customer service, high quality products and a positive staff, truly makes shopping at Publix, a pleasure.
Anderson is a broadcast journalism senior