Wegmans Hits Just the Right Note “In Sandy’s Wake”

I had no intention of writing anything about Hurricane Sandy this week. And then this email from Wegmans supermarket landed in my inbox and I had to say something. It’s a shining example of how a company should handle itself when disaster strikes.

Wegman's Email: In Hurricane Sandy's Wake

Human, Thoughtful and Helpful

Wegmans sent their “In Sandy’s Wake” email Thursday morning. Rather than explain it to you, I’ll just show you how disaster response should be done. The email came from MaryEllen Burris, senior vice president of Consumer Affairs for Wegmans.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, all of our stores are now open. Generators kept the stores going in areas most seriously affected by the storm (New Jersey and Pennsylvania north of Philadelphia in particular), but the current issue is being sure our employees can get to work safely so we can keep the Jersey stores near the shore open. Sufficient gasoline is a problem.  We are working with the communities in need to determine how we can help with storm recovery.

We recognize that we provide an essential service, and not just for food, but prescription and over-the-counter drugs. That’s why we try to prepare for the potential of power outages. Plans started in motion behind-the-scenes last week, testing our generators, bringing in additional truck-mounted or leased generators when necessary and securing an adequate fuel supply just in case. We used many of the portable generators we needed to be ready, not only in our stores, but in our distribution facilities and bakeshop.

But this storm was particularly challenging because it affected all of our 81 stores to some degree. Some measures were already in place. We have 16 stores built with permanent generators (all new stores) and we keep 10 portable generators to move where we need them.

Ms. Burris hit the perfect balance of information and explanation without overdoing it. The tone is matter-of-fact and caring at the same time. No overexplaining, no making excuses.

Crowd Engagement

Burris and management at Wegmans recognized an opportunity to get closer to their customers in a time of need, and created a hashtag to help customers find information they were looking for and connect at the same time.

We started receiving a lot of calls and tweets from our customers looking for information. The topics changed frequently, as the situation changed.  We created hashtag #WegSandy for customers who wanted to follow along for breaking news.  You also shared with us different ways you were riding out the storm:

Thanks to the Bethlehem @wegmans employees in the coffee/tea department for their great work this morning! #sandy #frankenstorm
–@pelcheck

Thank god for the Woodbridge Wegmans! #hurricanesandy #wegmans #coffee #aftermath–@keriannexo

But it’s comments like this one we received from a customer on Twitter that helps bring it all into perspective:

Thanks for being open today… Gives me and my community a step toward normalization… We’ll go to Wegmans, then it’ll be ok–@darcydorwar.

Very nicely done. Not only did they stay connected to their customers, but they gave them recognition as well, including sharing Instagram photos users shared with the #Wegmans or #WegSandy hashtag.

Taking the Extra Step

Notice how non-promotional Wegmans was in their actions so far. The next section of the post-hurricane email included food safety tips, which are so fitting for the many people who lost power for less than a day (and the others wondering what they would’ve done if they had lost power).

Wegmans’ actions here are completely consumer-focused, which all companies and marketers should realize are what people want in a time of need. In the same spirit of giving, I’ve decided to list those same food tips for you here:

Here are some important Food Safety Tips if you experienced a power outage as well as resources for further information:

One More Thing

On Wednesday, I was shopping in Wegmans to fill my empty fridge. As I walked by long, empty produce shelves on one side of the produce department, I asked the two workers scrubbing the shelves there if they lost power during the storm. The young man answered cheerfully that they kept their power but their deliveries got delayed, so they took this opportunity to give everything a good cleaning.

Cheerful, compassionate, helpful, informative—I could keep going. But I know I don’t have to. Their actions speak much louder than my words. And I hope marketers everywhere hear them loud and clear.

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