Celebration Corner: Wegmans 100th anniversary

By Barbara Spector

The supermarket chain, with 88 stores in six states, had a January 30 celebration. More anniversary events are in the planning stages.

The Business: John (Jack) Wegman, who began by selling produce from a pushcart on the streets of Rochester, N.Y., opened the Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Company in 1916. His brother Walter, who had helped their parents sell groceries from the front of their home, joined Jack in business a year later. In 1921, the brothers purchased the Seel Grocery Co., enabling them to expand into general groceries and bakery operations.

In 1930, the brothers opened a 20,000-square-foot store—huge by the standards of the time. The company was incorporated as Wegmans Food Markets Inc. in 1931. Robert Wegman, Walter's son, joined the business after graduating from high school in 1937. Wegmans' first suburban store, and the first located in a plaza, opened in the Rochester area in 1941. Wegmans stores became self-service in 1949.

Robert Wegman took over as president at age 31 in 1950 upon the death of his uncle Jack. According to the company, one of his first actions as leader was to raise all salaries. In 1953, the company launched an employee benefits program; a profit-sharing plan debuted in 1954. Large, elaborate stores with features such as a refrigerated product department, a window enabling customers to watch their meat being packaged, and a "Kiddie Corner" opened throughout New York.

Robert's son Danny Wegman joined the company in 1964. In 1969, Robert became chairman of the company. Wegmans topped $100 million in sales in 1970. One year later, the company began offering 24-hour service in some of its stores and opened its own checker training program. Also in the 1970s, the company introduced pharmacies (1972), home centers (1973) and seafood departments (1974) in Wegmans stores. Wegmans branded items debuted in 1979.

Wegmans introduced an employee scholarship program in 1983 and the Wegmans Federal Credit Union in 1986. A program called the "Work Scholarship Connection," launched in 1987 in partnership with the Rochester City School District, provided academic assistance and part-time jobs at Wegmans stores for city students to encourage them to stay in school. The company's first bulk foods department opened in 1983.

During the 1990s, Wegmans started hiring executive chefs to create restaurant-quality prepared foods. The company opened its first Market Café at the Corning, N.Y., store in 1992. Its first website was launched in 1996. The first Wegmans stores outside New York state opened in Pennsylvania (Erie) in 1993 and New Jersey (Princeton) in 1999.

The company entered the Virginia market with the opening of Wegmans Dulles in 2004; it opened its first store in Maryland (Hunt Valley) in 2005.

Danny Wegman was named the company's CEO in 2005. His father, Robert, remained chairman until his death in 2006.

Wegmans' 50-acre organic farm in Canandaigua, N.Y., began growing produce in 2007. The company stopped selling tobacco products in 2008. Throughout the 2000s, Wegmans opened full-service restaurants in select stores.

Today Wegmans has 88 stores in six states and nearly 46,000 employees.

The Family: Third-generation family member Danny Wegman is CEO. His daughter Colleen Wegman is president, and daughter Nicole Wegman is senior vice president of perishable foods and wine.

Nicole joined the company in 1989. She became vice president of wine in 2008 and was named to her current position in 2012. Colleen, who entered the family business in 1991, was named senior vice president of merchandising in 2002 and became president in 2005.

The Celebration: On January 30, a plaque featuring a portrait of second-generation leader Robert Wegman was placed near the entrance of all Wegmans stores, officially kicking off the centennial celebration.

A "celebration cake" was served to customers and employees at all stores, and employees donned new uniform shirts with the 100th-anniversary logo. The logo also appears on a new Wegmans reusable bag, a coffee mug and a Wegmans gift card.

The company is planning other ways to recognize its 100th anniversary; at press time, such plans had not been announced.

Copyright 2016 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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March/April 2016

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