Last updated on January 24th, 2024 at 01:22 pm
Lakeland, Florida-based Publix has been named Shelby Publishing’s 2023 Growth Leader. Now operating more than 1,360 stores, the employee-owned company has opened 45 new locations this year and completed more than 100 remodels. Executive Chairman Todd Jones said Publix is averaging 40-50 new stores per year.
The company has recently entered a new market, Kentucky, with six locations planned for Louisville, Lexington and Walton.
Jones said the company tries to enter new states that are contiguous to those where it already is established. This helps with staffing as well as supply chain. Other considerations include making sure a state is business friendly and that it has a population conducive to locating several stores.
“We certainly don’t want to go to a state and put five stores there. The economics won’t work. You want to get some scale,” he explained. “When you start thinking about scale, population growth, business friendly, contiguous associate base, we try to triangulate those things and model it out. And it modeled out higher than the other contiguous states. So Kentucky it is.”
Publix established a new micro-website, “Hello, Kentucky,” to share updates on store openings and information about the company. “All the things that customers would want to know … give them a little bit of culture, give them a little bit of flavor, because a lot of folks may not know us in that area,” Jones said.
Before Publix locates in a new state, Jones said they have been “scoping it out” for a couple of years.
“We’re getting to know customs, traditions, neighborhoods, communities, what’s important from a nonprofit sector. We really want to be part of the community. We’re not just putting your store there; we are becoming a part of that [community].”
He said they want to connect with the communities to understand what their needs are and what Publix can do “to lean into those areas.”
In June, Publix broke ground on its first Kentucky location in Louisville. Jones said that was the community’s first introduction to Publix’s products and services. “We brought some of our best foods … For some, it was the flavors that they remembered from when they’ve been at Publix for holidays or vacation trips.”
Jones noted that even those who haven’t visited a Publix often have heard about “legendary” Pub subs and bakery cakes. Store grand openings and gifts of Publix private label products and reusable bags often draw new customers.
“Once we get them in, we really count on our associates to do the rest,” he said.
In Kentucky, Jones said Publix is working on some “surprise-and-delight items that we want to make resonate to the local Kentuckian community. We’re working on a Kentucky bourbon ice cream.”
The company’s first liquor store outside of Florida also will be in Kentucky.
While Publix is entering a new market in Kentucky, it continues to grow in states where it already is established. The company has stores in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
“All of our states that we operate in are growing, so we have opportunity,” Jones said. “We’re finding that as consumers become more time starved, convenience matters more and more, so we can keep closing that gap down on the space that we have in between our existing stores. Maybe it won’t be uncommon to have stores right across the street, two stores on either corner, and still be very successful.”
Jones said the company wants to keep adding 40-50 stores each year, “whether they’re replacements or net new.”
In September 2022, Publix opened a new distribution center in Greensboro, North Carolina, which Jones said is a “huge facility.” It also has expanded its warehouse in Boynton Beach to help with the growth in South Florida.
In addition to those facilities, it has distribution centers in Dacula, Georgia; Deerfield Beach, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Miami, Orlando and Sarasota, Florida; and McCalla, Alabama.
Jones said Publix has two Fresh Kitchen facilities (Deerfield Beach and Lakeland, Florida) and is opening a third in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Fresh Kitchens make about 25-30 grab-and-go items, which are sent out on produce trucks the next morning. This helps store deli associates take care of customer-facing tasks.
Jones said the company continues to work to harden its supply chain and “help our growth going forward.”
Opening the distribution center in Greensboro, North Carolina, will allow Publix to more easily get products to the Kentucky stores.
“Moving food is a big part of it,” Jones said. “You’ve got to get it from point A to B as efficient as you can, as fast as you can. Turn it around, get those trucks back out, get them filled back up, get them turned back around, never have a down cycle. It’s 24/7, rock and roll all the time with supply chain movement.”
While many companies are dealing with a shortage of truck drivers, that has not been a problem for Publix.
“We hire them and grow them into drivers,” Jones said, providing training for warehouse associates who are interested in becoming CDL drivers. “It takes a little while, but we grow them.”
Jones said having truck drivers who have worked in the warehouse has its benefits. They know what’s in the truck and how it’s been loaded.
“They know the care they put into that truck. When they get behind the wheel, they know what’s back there. They know how it shifts. They care for it,” he said.
Jones said they have a lot of associates who want to become drivers, adding that 99 percent of the time, Publix drivers are home every night. He said the company wants to “put the associate before the process.”
Most drivers have one or two runs a day. On longer runs, they will try to build a drop spot, if necessary, where one driver can drop a trailer and have another driver pick it up and deliver it to its destination, allowing both drivers to be home that night.
“You don’t have to put them on the side of the road and have to spend the night at a rest area,” Jones said.
Publix remains committed to its associates, its customers and its communities. While the company continues to grow and expand its footprint in the Southeast, its leaders remain focused on its core values and commitment to excellence.
Jones shares a story of a lion and a gazelle.
“Every day in Africa, a lion wakes up and knows it has to outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve. At the same time in Africa, every gazelle wakes up and knows it has to outrun the fastest lion or it’s going to get eaten. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or the gazelle. When the sun comes up, you best get running.
“It means you’ve got competitors that are possibly coming after you. They’re coming after your customers, they’re coming after your associates. If you allow them to do that, [it could] make it easy for them. But if you get up every morning and you’re running, you build a little bit of a barrier,” Jones said.
Publix continues to care for the vision of its founder, George W. Jenkins (Mr. George), from 93 years ago of being the company that “knows the most and cares the most about the products we sell and the people we serve,” Jones said. “It’s a privilege to be part of it. We do this because it’s the right thing to do.”
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