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Remodeled Tampa Store Serves As Publix’s Prototype

Publix Tampa

Publix has been named Shelby Publishing’s 2023 Growth Leader. Publix President Kevin Murphy recently visited with Shelby President and COO Stephanie Reid and SVP Jan Meade as they toured the Publix at 3617 W. Gandy Blvd. in Tampa, Florida. The 55,000-square-foot store is the company’s newest prototype.

Murphy referenced the company’s Greenwise stores, which he said were a test of sorts.

“It was more of a sandbox for us to be able to give us permission to do things a little bit differently and not have to give up or fully commit to a Publix design,” he explained. “It let us do things a little bit outside of the box, a little bit outside of the norm. And it worked really well for us.”

He said the prototype store incorporates some of the best liked aspects of the Greenwise stores. Putting floral at the entrance is one example.

“That worked out nicely for us and allows us to feature different things. It allows us to make a statement of the season … as the customer comes in,” Murphy said.

He pointed out the customer service area, which he said has changed over the years. Instead of it being in front of the registers, it is off to the side. 

Publix Tampa pours

“People don’t cash checks very much anymore. Most people are either well banked or not banked at all,” Murphy said.

He said the Florida Lottery is big, which also is handled in the area, along with Western Union services.

Moving to the omni services area, where curbside pickup access and staging are located, Murphy noted that delivery and pickup have gained in popularity over the past several years. Publix partners with Instacart for delivery orders.

Murphy said finding space in older stores for curbside and delivery staging has been a challenge and is being is addressed during remodels. He said having a designated area has worked well in the new stores, as people go back and forth from curbside and delivery.

Walking into the Pours area, or beverage center, Murphy said they wanted to provide a fun place for customers to sit. The area has chairs, tables and TVs. Many customers use it as a meeting spot or a place to grab something quick on their way home.

Publix also has a calendar of events for the area, with tap takeovers for local breweries, dessert events, smoothie-making classes and other activities available.

“We have different, fun things, things that are geared to kids as well as things that are geared to adults. But when you do a tap takeover or we do a local winery or wine tasting event, it’s standing room only. It’s really exciting,” he said.

Entering the produce area, Murphy called it one of the most important departments in the store.

“We associate food with health now. We associate food with better living. I think today’s customer is much more educated about the importance of what they eat, what they put into their bodies,” he said. 

“The produce department is one of our better performing departments.”

He said Publix wants to feature that and put it up front. “This is a department that customers do not skip, and we’re able to show them what’s fresh. We’re able to show them what’s in season.”

The broader use of doors in the produce department is part of the company’s awareness of its carbon footprint and concern for the environment. While some states require the use of doors, Murphy said Publix has been installing them on its own “just to move in that direction so we can learn and we can understand what effect it is going to have on the overall store environment, on the overall customer environment, the shopping and merchandising environment.”

Over the past 10 years, Publix has been expanding its use of doors in the department while trying to ensure customers can clearly see the products.

A deli island is nearby, where customers can “move around depending on what they’re looking for,” Murphy said. “It also is a more efficient way of serving a customer. If I’m over here for a burrito, I’m not impacting all the people that may be in line for a ‘Pub sub’ or all the people ordering a pizza or wanting fried chicken.”

Publix Tampa Deli

He said they are excited about featuring their sushi and noodle program in the area, calling it a great alternative for lunch or dinner. “It’s really just giving the customer another choice,” Murphy said.

Maria Brous, director of communications at Publix, said Murphy was instrumental when thinking about the layout of the deli format as well as the quality of the foods offered. 

“We want this to be a destination for lunch and dinner,” she said. “Even my favorite pizza is thanks to him – the cheeseburger pizza. It’s really good!”

Murphy said they are very conscious and demanding of high quality in all that they do, but quick service and the ability to customize orders also is important. He also noted the quality and value on the salad and hot bars.

“It’s fresh, very delicious and unique,” he said.

The goal is to offer customers “something maybe they haven’t seen and tried in some of our other stores … But then you walk into what they traditionally know as our deli at the back, so you can still get your fried chicken and you can still get your ‘Pub sub.’ You can still get all that, but we want to tempt them and show them something different here,” Murphy said.

Popcorn and kettle corn are available and made in-store with different flavors. “It’s really fun,” said Murphy, who pointed out they had partnered the bakery and deli departments so customers can see the work going on.

“You get a sense that all of it is being made here, it’s fresh,” he said. 

In the bakery and dessert area, customers can see items coming out of the ovens and being packaged for sale.

“That’s been really great for us. And having the two [departments] merged together [creates] some efficiency in the back as far as cleaning and storage, loading and unloading supplies,” Murphy said. “It’s been really good synergy having the two together like that. Customers love this because you could almost stop your shopping trip here because you’ve got enough for a few days of meals.”

He also pointed out the grab-and-go section, with ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat selections. All the salads are made fresh in-store a couple of times each day.

“We’re doing more and more of this, just making it so easy to pick up for a football game or an afternoon on a Saturday,” Murphy said. “Some of this comes from our Fresh Kitchen – all our recipes, all our ingredients, all made in a state-of-the-art kitchen and brought into our stores seven days a week, fresh.

“We’ll order this afternoon; we’ll do production all night and into the morning. It will come out and be delivered the next day.”

When asked about labor issues that some companies continue to face since COVID-19, Murphy said Publix is “blessed because of our associates.” The company never had to close a store or not open a department during the pandemic and afterward.

“Our people are unbelievably dedicated and committed, and really feel passionate about serving the communities that they live in. Our associates and managers live in the communities that they serve,” he said.

“It means a lot for our associates to be here and be able to serve. We’re here before a hurricane, we’re here during COVID, we’re here after COVID. It’s unbelievable, the outpouring of appreciation directly from our customers for our associates.”

As the tour continued, Murphy noted Publix operates more than 1,200 pharmacies in its stores, adding that it is a challenging business. 

“It’s very hard to make money with pharmacy because you’re dealing with a lot of the insurance plans, you’re dealing with a lot of the PBM (pharmacy benefit manager) plans, the third party and middle person that helps negotiate drug prices … so it’s very difficult.”

Publix Tampa Seafood

However, it is an important department, and Murphy said there needs to be some help through legislation to address the issues that are making pharmacies “more and more challenging to operate.”

Heading into the seafood department, Murphy noted that Publix receives fresh seafood from all over the world. Many selections of fish are not frozen but delivered fresh to the stores. Some varieties of items, such as shrimp, are quick frozen on the boats, but he said that is indicated through signage.

“People are experimenting more with seafood and understanding the health benefits of fresh foods,” he said.

Publix purchases from a variety of seafood suppliers on a daily basis. It has certain specifications and grades it is looking for to ensure quality and maintain the cold supply chain.

In the meat department, Murphy pointed out that all the fresh sausage is made in-house, including different flavored sausages and bacon, as well. He said the sausage is stuffed and hand tied in store.

Publix also offers Prime and Kobe beef, along with its Publix premium choice steaks and its Greenwise options with chicken, beef and pork. Several fresh heat-and-eat options are available, all made in-house.

“It’s just fantastic,” Murphy said, adding that their chefs create many of the recipes. “They’ve just done a great job on flavors and on-trend items.” He also noted the “outstanding” tenderness of the Greenwise beef, chicken and pork.

All Publix premium grinds are done in-store, four to five times each day. “We’re just continuing to bring that out fresh,” Murphy said.

Brous added that while many competitors are outsourcing several items, Publix continues to have meat cutters in-store and operate a scratch bakery, as well. 

The company employs journeyman meat cutters. As an example, Murphy said if an associate working as a bagger on the front end decides they would like to learn to be a journeyman meat cutter or a baker, Publix will train them in that skill. 

“That’s where most of our meat managers come from,” he said.

With the pace of Publix’s growth, either opening new stores or remodeling older ones, Murphy said the company likes to promote from within whenever possible.

“We want our associates and our managers, who own this company, to really understand Publix and what our values are, what our culture is. To be able to do that, they’ve got to be immersed in the operation. They’ve got to be immersed in the company and learn several different roles and responsibilities as they’re coming up.”

The company’s Contender Program identifies associates in various departments who have a desire and the ability to take on more responsibility.

“I think in large part our culture is the promise that you can build a career at Publix. I think that’s what our culture is all about, the promotion and the opportunity that you can come in – in one company – and that you will continue to have opportunity, and you will continue to better yourself, and you’ll continue to grow, and you will continue to learn skills and trades and learn about business,” Murphy said. 

“You’ll continue to earn more money and do better for yourself and be better for your family. It’s that promise that we want you to come to Publix and be able to achieve your personal best, whatever that is, whatever your ceiling is, the more responsibility you want.”

Murphy said he started bagging groceries at age 14 at Publix. “I loved what I was doing … I liked being given responsibility to be able to stand back and see a job well done.”

He continued working with the company through college and was offered opportunities for advancement. That continues, as they want to make sure they have people being trained in every department and be ready to fill positions when new stores open.

“If we’re not able to have people to open up these stores, then we’re not able to uphold our promise to every associate who comes in that they’re going to have the opportunity to grow their career,” said Murphy, adding that managers are involved in training and developing associates.

President Kevin Murphy
Publix President Kevin Murphy

Brous said while they are preparing to enter a new market in Kentucky, they want to hire from the local community but also want to bring in some of their talent that is ready to advance.

“Kevin’s big on talking about ‘prepare for the opportunity.’ We’ll take managers with us that are from all the states that we operate in, and we’ll bring that management team in that’s going to help a whole new generation of Publix associates and company owners understand the culture. You can’t just come in and open with all new people who don’t know what the culture is, because that is our hallmark. That is the differentiator for us.”

Murphy added that the company grows as its communities grow. “It’s no secret that a lot of people are moving to the South … We want to be there for those customers,” he said.

As the company originated in Florida, most of the replacement stores are there, as well as some new locations.

“As our stores get very crowded and busy, we want to be able to relieve some of that and open up another location. We’re fortunate and blessed. And that’s why we’re committed to the number of managers that you see in the store. A lot of people in the industry, and for good reason, are trying to reduce the number of management [positions] they have … or go to an hourly program. At Publix, we just believe that there’s so much that we do about maintaining our quality in each store and maintaining our service levels in each store. We want to remain committed to that.”

Murphy said those managers are the company’s “feeder pool” for store managers and district managers. “It’s important for us to have that and to maintain that structure. It helps us be very consistent when you talk about eight states and more than 1,360 stores. The commitment and the ownership that each one of our managers has and our key associates have allowed us to have that consistency. We think that’s really important. That’s an investment we make.”

Read more independent store news from The Shelby Report.

About the author

Treva Bennett

Senior Content Creator

After 32 years in the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her new career exploring the world of groceries at The Shelby Report.

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