Trumping Walmart: WinCo Foods Shows How To Keep Employees AND Customers Happy

As Walmart tumbles to the bottom of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, another store proves both customers and employees can be served; meet WinCo.. Image @ WincoFoods

As Walmart tumbles to the bottom of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, another store proves both customers and employees can be served; meet WinCo.. Image @ WincoFoods

Of the many reasons Americans give for continuing to shop at the PR-challenged retail behemoth,Walmart, the most prevalent is their “low, low prices.” The store’s motto is, after all, “Save money. Live better.” Certainly, most people are looking to do both, but a great many would like to do so without patronizing a corporation whose business model in terms of employee pay and benefits is appalling; whose intimidation tactics with government is shameful, and whose attitude about properly protecting its foreign workers is deadly. So, many who refuse to sacrifice the greater good for the cheaper, say, room fan, choose, instead, to shop at Costco, Trader Joe’s, Quik Trip or Publix, to name a few. To name another? WinCo Foods.

This is not an endorsement, an ad, or even a suggestion that you, the reader, seek out and shop at any one store over another. It’s simply an acknowledgement that not every ‘low price leader’ has to also be a cesspool of amoral commercialism in their drive to keep prices down and customers shopping. But, heck, while I’m making the point I may as well offer some alternatives based on the criteria, right?

WinCo is a small employee-owned grocery chain that was started by Ralph Ward and Bud Williams in Boise, ID back in 1967. The names they used at the time – Waremart Food Centers and Cub Foods – were changed in 1999 to reflect the owners’ philosophy: Winning Company. But it was in 1985, in an unusual move, that the company evolved into a different, and very employee-friendly, business model:

In 1985, the WinCo Foods Employee Stock Ownership Trust (Employee Pension Plan), headed by then president Bill Long and with full support of store personnel and management, purchased from the Ward family a majority interest of WinCo, giving WinCo employees a real ownership stake in the company. The company continued its rapid growth and by 2000 had replaced a majority of its retail stores with updated and expanded facilities. [Source. Emphasis added.]

Quite a contrast to Walmart, which can’t seem to figure out how to pay a decent wage or get their employees insurance coverage. In fact, while recent government research shows that Walmart’s wage and benefits structure is a drag on the taxpayer, WinCo, which now has close to 100 stores and 15,000 employees, allows those who work with them long enough to qualify for a pension plan, into which the company pays 20 percent of their annual salary. From Think Progress:

More than 400 “front-line” workers — clerks, cashiers, and others who are not at the executive level — have retirement accounts that are worth at least $1 million, according to a company spokesman.

It also provides full health benefits for those who work at least 24 hours a week, beyond the requirements in the Affordable Care Act. While the company is private and hasn’t made wage information available, Glassdoor reports that cashiers and clerks make more than $11 an hour. Thanks to these benefits and wages, the company has low turnover. An industry analyst estimated that the average hourly worker stays with the company for more than eight years. [Emphasis added.]

See that line: “beyond the requirements in the Affordable Care Act”? That tells you all you need to know about the corporations and conservative fearmongers who insist those ACA requirements are going to do in the American economy.

But here’s the kicker: while it’s admirable that WinCo takes such good care of its employees, what’s the impact of those considerations on their bottom line, the prices customers pay at the checkout counter?

Their prices are often lower than Walmarts! How’s that, you ask?

To drive them down, the company doesn’t rely on distributors to get products and instead sends its own trucks to get food and other goods in bulk, which can amount to a 10 to 50 percent discount. It requires that customers bag their own groceries to cut down on the cost of a worker doing it for them. It doesn’t take credit cards to eliminate the processing fees. And its stands and displays are “pragmatic” and “lack frills.” [Source]

I think even the “People of Walmart” would endure those cost-cutting measures to get that cheaper room fan!

So, as you make your choices about where to shop, along with Costco, Trader Joe’s, Qwik Trip, and Publix, you can now add WinCo to your list. If they don’t have a store in your area, check out their website and perhaps send a note; let them know your community would be interested. That’s how customers can speak up; that, and with their pocketbook.

And as it turns out, they’re doing just that with Walmart: The American Customer Satisfaction Index of February of this year found Walmart at the bottom of its applicable list of stores.