by Jason Chan (GSB ’17)
Dr. Di Lorenzo’s Ground Floor class listened to Stew Leonard’s in-store animatronics while sampling the market’s freshly glazed cinnamon doughnuts. As the animated butter sticks sang, three tour guides described how Stew Leonard’s grew from a small family-owned business in Connecticut to a regional dairy store with more than 2,000 employees. Their secret: good team management, marketing and customer service.
The class visited the Yonkers branch of Stew Leonard’s to learn about innovative marketing strategies and unorthodox business models that other supermarkets seem unable to replicate. Marketing is one of the main business disciplines that The Ground Floor covers, and Stew Leonard’s is an example of how good marketing techniques can lead to a healthy, successful company.
Students witnessed firsthand three things Stew Leonard’s is marketing: disciplined customer service, transparency in the process that brings food to the store’s aisles, and a welcoming and fun environment. Toward the first, they learned Stew Leonard’s motto: 1. The customer is always right. 2. If the customer is ever wrong, reread rule 1. As evidence of the second, they noticed that all of the juice-making, meat cutting and cooking happens in plain view of the customers. Lastly, they saw how animatronic animals and festive decorations create an atmosphere and vibe that set Stew Leonard’s apart from competitors such as A&P and Shop Rite.
Another valuable takeaway from the trip was the company’s engagement of workers, regardless of their position in the store. Managers encourage everyone to come forward with ideas on how to improve Stew Leonard’s, and when the ideas are good, they use them. The tour guide recalled that a new employee once decided to make a salad from her own recipe, setting up a stand for samples. After three weeks of successful sampling and selling, Stew Leonard’s gave her salad a permanent nod of approval. The mentality is that workers who are more engaged tend to be more responsible and inspired. Ultimately, they feel that they own their work.
The Ground Floor’s main project requires students to work effectively in a team to create their own company. In doing this, they are exposed to all disciplines of business, from finance to marketing to accounting. To produce a successful business plan, they are encouraged to apply everything they learn throughout the year — including these valuable lessons about teamwork, customer service and marketing. Trips to successful businesses such as Stew Leonard’s complement the Ground Floor and give students good business strategies and models to follow.
Photographs courtesy of Assistant Dean Greer Jason (center) and Flickr’s Creative Commons, via Shinya Suzuki (top) and Portal Abras (bottom).