PublixWhen you’re in the arena with major players like Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, it would seem nearly impossible to best them in profitability. However, a privately owned grocery chain based in Florida has been doing just that.

85 years ago, George W. Jenkins founded Publix after quitting his job at Piggly Wiggly. His intention was to grow via the loyalty of his employees and he earned that loyalty by offering them shares of his new company. This investment in his new employees has led to Publix becoming the largest employee-owned company in the country (80% of the company’s shares are still held by employees).

Publix will be a little better place to work, or not quite as good, because of you” — George Jenkins, Founder, Publix

It has also incentivized employees to provide an outstanding customer experience. From being greeted at the door (and throughout the store) by smiling employees, to having items retrieved for you (rather than being told which aisle to look in), to having your cart pushed out to your car, gratis (tipping is frowned upon), Publix employees treat you like you are their customer because you are, in fact, their customer.

We believe there are three ways to differentiate: service, quality and price. You’ve got to be good at two of them, and the best at one. We make service our number one” – Todd Jones, President, Publix

When a Publix customer has an outstanding experience and thus continues to choose to shop at Publix over its competitors, this dedication to service is immediately translated to increased profit. Happy customers continue to be customers, even if the prices are not always the lowest. Unhappy customers demand the lowest prices (and may -and often do- leave even when they are).

While we may not all work for companies that pay employees in shares of the company, there is an important lesson for all of us in the Publix model. The profitability and stability of a company is fueled by customers’ dedication to that company. Employees’ efforts to take care of each and every customer are the surest ways to earn customer loyalty. These efforts ensure the company’s health and longevity. The future of our companies rest in the way each one of us approaches our customers. Let’s make ourselves invaluable to them!