Home » At Weis Markets, ‘We’re Really In The People Business’

At Weis Markets, ‘We’re Really In The People Business’

people

Customer service unlike any other; opportunity abounds for ‘everybody at every level’

by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer

Weis Markets’ go-to-market strategy permeates the whole company.

“If you treat your associates well, they in turn will take care of your customers,” explained Amy Zimmerman, store manager. 

Zimmerman began her Weis career as a part-time cashier, working throughout high school. And the care for associates and customers is what she believes differentiates the grocer from its competitors.

“I think that’s a big difference. The customer service that we provide is unlike any other,” Zimmerman said. “If any customer walks down our aisles, we’ll say hello and acknowledge them. You can go to our competitors and walk through, and nobody will say anything to you.

“And it all starts with the way you treat your associates.”

Jerry Hatch, district manager, says much of the same when asked what has made Weis so successful over the past century-plus. 

“The associates…certainly how they treat their people…that keeps a lot of people motivated and to do their best,” he said. 

people

Hatch started as a part-time clerk in 1977 and has stayed with the company because of the focus on associates and the notion that “anybody has an opportunity to advance.” He gave credit to numerous mentors throughout his time with Weis.

“It would be hard to name just one [mentor] because all the way throughout my career, there has been somebody who helped me along, encouraged me, promoted me or stood behind me as I got promoted,” Hatch said.

And from an executive standpoint, this growth is one of the most rewarding aspects of the business.

“What I really like most about [my job] is the ability and luxury to see people grow and improve in their jobs, and in turn, propel our company forward,” said Jonathan Weis, CEO and president. “It’s about people, essentially.”

This is Wendy Oliver’s 42nd year in the grocery industry, having joined Weis Markets as its regional VP of operations five years ago. She’s enjoyed the move for its opportunity to be a mentor within the company, guidance that she appreciated earlier in her career.

“It’s been a real good call for me to do it because I get to mentor people…what I love about working in this environment with Weis – a company that’s growing its store account and experts available to people – is that they really do allow us to mentor, to focus on development of our store associates,” Oliver said.

“And it’s really rewarding, because we get to see folks advance right in front of us – it’s built into the culture of Weis.”

Oliver noted that associate development has been key to Weis’ continued success.

“As we get bigger – and it’s more incumbent on the stores to make the right decisions – we’ve really been able to in the last few years develop a level of trust with our associates…they know that we’re growing, and they see that there’s opportunities for advancement.

“We have associates that have worked 50 to 60 years for Weis. And with that, we’re part of the community…Weis is developing a real strong culture listening to the customers. And all of that combined, I think it’s a huge element of our success…it’s a pretty powerful force here.”

Randy Householder, store manager, can attest to that force.

“After I joined the company, I was in a position to work with the leadership and actually found out that they were people that wanted to help you. They were people that really were behind you and helped you in multiple ways,” Householder said. “And what I mean by that is district manager all the way up to the president of the company, Jonathan Weis.

“When these people come into your store, it’s almost a humbling effect that these people were more in a praise and thanking you and rewarding you and working with you…that really made the job that much easier than most organizations that I worked for.

“Being in my role as a store manager in Mount Airy, it just made you want to accomplish more, and help others. Because coming in from the outside and starting with this company, it just gave you a sense of ownership.

“And it works both ways. It works for our associates, feeling good about working at Weis Markets, and also our customers.”

people

Ron Bonacci, VP of advertising and marketing and public relations, sees this focus on people reflected “every day in the customer service feedback.”

“Our customers love the store, but the biggest shout-out is…the store can be clean, it can be well-stocked, it can look great, but they love it because of the people,” Bonacci said.

“Some of the feedback that I get from the customers is, ‘Mary Jane said hi to me today, and she walked me to the item.’ I had another customer that wrote in the other day and said, ‘I was in your deli department, and they didn’t have a particular meat, but they ordered it for me.’

“We make sure that talking to our customers, interacting with them, is part of our way of life – making sure we greet them, making sure they find everything they’re looking for. We treat them like family; we don’t treat them like a customer or anyone else.”

And Weis Markets, founded, owned and operated by the Weis family, really does operate like a family – for customers and associates.

“We know each other very well. We know our families. We know when they’re hurting, we’re hurting. We know each other’s needs. We support our teams, and we support the communities,” Bonacci said.

“It’s nothing for a store to call me directly and say, ‘Hey, I need this or need that. How can you help?’ And we just jump in and pitch in every day. We’re a mid-sized company, but we’re small in the sense that we’re like that family that’s so close-knit that you can call on at any time.

“I’m super blessed to have the associates that I work with every day because we truly are a team. There is no hierarchy. It’s a team effort to get things done, and we serve each other that way.”

people

Elaine Cole, director of deli and foodservice, agrees. After joining Weis in 2012, she said the company has become “really almost like our second family.”

“This is the best move I ever made…I feel connected with the whole team. It’s the best place. It really is,” Cole said.

“I have 32 years with another company…and I’ve never been in a place where I am in my office, and [COO] Kurt [Schertle] or Jonathan [Weis] will just come in and start talking about what’s happening in the department, genuinely concerned about what’s going on with our associates or the specialists.

“It’s not even just the work part. It’s the personal aspect. They want to genuinely know how you’re doing…if there’s anything they can help you out with. Everybody’s had different things in their lives, and they’ve come through for me.”

VP of Distribution Joe Kleman added, “For me, I like to learn every day and teach every day. I like to make sure that I’m in tune with my associates and help them get to the next level, and to help them deal with situations inside of work and outside of work.

“We’re selling cans of corn and everything, but we’re really in the people business. If you don’t manage your people properly, you will not be successful.”

Kleman started with Weis Markets in 1979, staying with the company for 40-plus years now after he “saw growth potential for myself and my co-workers.”

“The future is bright for all of our associates, and even future associates…we invest in benefits and wages and training and education,” Kleman said.

“Whether you’re a mechanic or a selector, a fork operator, an executive – there is great potential for everybody at every level.”

David Gose, SVP of operations, echoes how rewarding his career with Weis Markets has been because of its focus on helping people succeed.

“There’s nothing more delightful in my job than to see folks that are achieving their goals or even exceeding what they thought was capable when they first started with us,” Gose said.

“And we’ve got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stories that we can share in that success. We have 23,000 folks. Associates, not employees – there’s a difference.

“We spend a lot of time in training and development. We have learning modules that our associates can watch and learn from. We spend a lot of time with our leadership in training and developing them how to be great leaders; how to manage a store; how to lead a store; and how to participate in that. And we’ve spent tens of thousands of hours each year in sessions and webinars…we want our associates to be educated. We want them to grow.”

Gose summed it up by saying Weis creates opportunities for hardworking people, then helps them to attain their goals with the company.

“I feel pretty good about that,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of the fact that supermarket business is a sector that you can get in without much experience. But if you’re committed, and you work hard, and you have a good attitude, and you got a little pep in your step and a smile on your face…man, oh, man, that’s a great canvas for us to work with. And we can train for those skill sets, and we want to be a partner in that.

“Much like other business people, we’re in the people business, and we just happen to sell groceries. And that’s the real truth – that’s the bottom line.”

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