WinCo Succeeds By Knowing and Serving Its Customers
Bill Long, the chairman and former CEO of WinCo Foods, knows there are certain groups of customers that his company doesn’t do very well with.
“We do very poorly with the elderly,” he told the Idaho Statesman. “Our stores are too big, we don’t carry small sizes, and we don’t have a lot of services. And single people aren’t that interested in our product mix because we don’t carry the high-end stuff.”
On the other hand, Mr. Long said, “Growing families like us, and there are a lot of them. That’s our customer base.”
The employee-owned company, headquartered in Boise, has succeeded by not attempting to be all things to all people. Instead WinCo has focused on cutting costs in every area of its business so it can offer prices that can compete even with the likes of Wal-Mart.
Speaking of the emergence of Wal-Mart’s Supercenters, Mr. Long said, “We decided there is no way we can change. We either took them on, or we went away. There was nothing else to do.”
While WinCo has grown to a $3 billion enterprise with about 10,000 employees, the company (despite the Statesman article) tends to keep a low profile.
Mr. Long, who resigned as CEO back in December and was replaced by Steven Goddard, said, “I always disliked the CEO being interviewed at his desk, saying how he changed the structure of the company. I refrained from doing interviews because I thought it was detrimental to the morale in the company. WinCo was built with the help of a lot of people.”
A focus on its people is a WinCo constant. Under Mr. Long’s leadership, company executives were required to work at all new store openings doing cart runs and other tasks handled by the front line.
He made a point of getting out to stores during the Christmas season to meet with as many workers as possible.
“It gives the employees a lot of confidence,” Mr. Long told the Statesman. “If they got a problem they know where to go. Employees should always know their CEO.”
Discussion Questions: What do you see as the strengths of WinCo Foods? How much of a part, for example, does being employee-owned play in the company’s success? What challenges does WinCo face?