Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wegmans Food Market in Collegeville - You HAVE to go!

Today was Wegmans grand opening in Collegeville and as a past customer to their store in Downingtown, I knew we were in for some real eye candy!

The store is quite different in many ways from those in which we normally shop, and until you've enjoyed the experience, a thousand written words will only begin to describe it.

I had planned to write about our little excursion today, but Michelle Karas from the Mercury has already written an excellent article on Wegmans.

Plan to spend a long time browsing!


Wegmans' Collegeville store first to include restaurant

Sunday, October 11, 2009

By Michelle Karas,

COLLEGEVILLE — What does it take to open a new, 132,000-square-foot, upscale grocery store including a full-service restaurant and pub? In a nutshell: Several months of construction, a hiring process to net 600 employees, roughly three months of training for those employees, and getting the store filled with product and ready to go.

Daunting on paper, for sure, but it was all in a year's work for the folks at Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets Inc.

The new Wegmans store in the Providence Town Center shopping mecca at routes 422 and 29 will open at 7 a.m. today.

To say the least, it's a huge store, complete with a full-service restaurant, coffee shop, take-out beer, a free and secure place to drop off the kids while you shop, conference facilities, and a whole lot of food for sale — either fully prepared or for the customer to prepare at home.

The Collegeville location is the regional supermarket chain's 14th store in Pennsylvania and its 74th overall.

For a family-owned chain that's been in operation for 93 years, that slow, steady growth pattern is no accident, according to Jo Natale, Wegmans director of marketing.

"Our growth has been very measured over the years since 1916," said Natale, during a visit to Collegeville this week to help open the store. "This year we're opening three stores (Collegeville, Fredericksburg, Va., and Leesburg, Va.), last year we opened just one."

Only in the last five years has Wegmans expanded into northern Virginia and Maryland, Natale said.

"These are large stores. We need a density of population to support these stores," she said. "One of the things we often say is we're not trying to be the biggest, just the best."

But even at No. 74, the Collegeville store is a definite first for the Wegmans chain.

"This is the first store where we have opened a full-service restaurant in the store, called The Pub," Natale said. "We wanted to take it to that next step. We're taking the restaurant experience to a new level."

The Pub, patterned after a traditional Irish pub, is situated in the Market Cafée, an area separated slightly from the grocery shopping area. The bar and restaurant area features hardwood floors, modern styling and a clear view of what the Wegmans' chefs are doing in an open kitchen.

"Wegmans dream was always 'Wouldn't it be great if we could do this in the store'," Natale said. "This is a place where families shop for their groceries. Now people can choose to bring their family to The Pub and have that experience."

All of the Wegmans stores in Pennsylvania have liquor licenses, she explained.

Per state law, customers of legal age can purchase up to two six-packs of beer to go or order alcohol by the glass at the bar or while seated at the restaurant. Craft beers and imports make up the majority of the takeout beer offerings, which number about 750, according to Blaine Forkell, store manager.

At The Pub, you can order draft beer, wine or liquor to enjoy along with your meal. If you sit at the bar, which seats 24, "You can sit and order a menu item and watch it being prepared," Natale said.

Forkell stressed the family-friendly focus of the store when he said he does not anticipate any law enforcement issues related to the alcohol service.

"We have no shots, pitchers or happy hours, and no pool tables," Forkell noted.

"The alcohol we sell is to complement the great food we sell. It's always been about the food at Wegmans."

Alcohol simply isn't the focus at The Pub, according to Chris Happel, executive chef of the Collegeville store.

"It's about the education as well. The food is the highlight and the focus of the entire bar is the food," Happel said.

More than 6,100 people applied for roughly 550 full- and part-time positions there.

"It was a large number of applications," said Forkell, who noted the norm for applications for a store opening is about 2,500 to 3,000.

"We always do get a good application flow, but clearly the economy had a good impact on the greater number here," Natale said.

New employees received 11 weeks of training at nearby stores and about a week in the Collegeville site, once it was ready.

Wegmans budgeted $1.6 million to train the Collegeville employees, Forkell said.

"We pride ourselves on being a great place to work," Natale said. "Meet the needs of your employees first, and they will meet the needs of your customers."

For 12 years in a row, Wegmans has been named one of FORTUNE magazine's list of "100 Best Companies to Work For." This year, Wegmans ranked No. 5 on that list

Wegmans employs a total of 37,000 people in its stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland. About 6,000 of those employees have at least one other family member working for the company, according to Natale.

"There are companies that actually discourage that, but we don't," she said.

Store Manager Blaine Forkell, the store manager, has been working for Wegmans since he landed a part-time job at the Rochester-area store when he was 16. He became a store manager at Wegmans' Corning, N.Y. store in 1993, and subsequently helped to open the Scranton store and manage the Wilkes-Barre store. He opened the Downingtown store in 2003 and moved to Warrington in 2006 to open a store there. More recently, his focus has been on the Collegeville store.

He's anticipating approximately 50,000 customers this week, during the store's grand opening week. Typical Wegmans stores see about 30,000 transactions a week, Forkell noted. For the Collegeville location, tt's tough to gauge what "normal" customer volume might be until after the store's initial 11 weeks in operation, which include a few major holidays.

"It will really take us to January to settle in," Forkell said.

Roughly 80 percent of the store's customers are expected to come from about a 10-mile radius of the store, he said.

Finally, there's the food and other items for sale you'll find as a grocery shopper. In the Market Cafée, you'll find prepared meals in the $6 and $10 range, a burrito bar and panini station, thin-sliced traditional and gourmet pizza, a wing bar, old-fashioned subs, sushi, Asian-inspired cuisine, a soup station with up to six varieties of hot soup, and a "Fresh Foods Bar" that includes a hot entree, chilled salads, fruits and vegetables.

"We're making it easy for the commuter to buy packaged products to take home to their family," said Happel, the store's executive chef.

There's also a bakery, patisserie, deli shop (which Forkell said is open until at least 10 p.m. daily), Mediterranean bar, seafood and meat departments, coffee and tea shops, and an Olde World Cheese Shop, where you'll find 365 varieties of specialty and artisan cheese.

In the grocery aisles, there is a large organic selection, including a special gluten-free area as well as all the food offerings you would expect in an upscale grocery store. There are 700 different kinds of fruits and vegetables, 100 of those are organic.

"Produce continues to be the crown jewel of our operation," Natale said.

There is also a pharmacy, full-service florist, and catering department (available Nov. 1). Wegmans Complements shop, located roughly in the middle of the grocery area, features cookware, knives, kitchen tools, glassware, tableware, cutlery, table linens and decorating accessories.

Notably, there are 30 checkout stations in the front end of the store. The restaurant area has its own checkout station.

"We really pride ourselves on quick and easy checkout," Natale said. "We try to open a new checkout after there are two people waiting in line. We do understand that, in the end, that may be the most important experience a shopper has."

Prices are also important to the consumer, she noted.

"The perception is sometimes that it costs more to shop here," Natale said. "It costs less to shop at Wegmans than at other stores. We mean business when we say we have consistently low prices."


Anonymous said...

Take out beer in a food store in Pennsylvania????

Anonymous said...

Pennsylvania has been doing this in a limited number of stores since 2004. ACME has been selling wines for several years now...
The selection of imported beers, chilled and not chilled, at Wegmans is pretty good. There is a Sly Fox brand right at the register as well.