Brian West, Media and Community Relations Manager of Publix, joined us on June 25th to share Publix history, corporate culture, and public relation practices.
Publix was founded in 1930 by George Jenkins, known affectionately as Mr. George. His father owned a convenience store in Paris City, Georgia, which offered exceptional customer service. Upon coming to Florida to check out a reported real estate boom, George encountered a gentleman who owned several Piggly Wiggly Grocery Stores in the Tampa Bay area who hired him to be the manager of the store in Winter Haven, Florida. Inspired by his dad’s best practices, George decided to go into business for himself and opened a store right next door to the Piggly Wiggly.
After about a year, George’s store was doing so well, the Piggly Wiggly closed. George wanted to reward his associates for a job well done and took out a bank loan to give them each a $2 a week raise and public stock in the company thus establishing the corporate culture of pride in ownership which reflected in their exceptional customer service.
In 1940, George closed the first store and opened a second store two blocks away which was the first to be named Publix Supermarket, complete with automatic doors, air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, drinking fountain, and scale — basing every decision on “customer first”. The Publix name came about from inspiration from a business known as Publix Paramount Theater. Ingenious marketing practices included putting the customer scale in the back of the store.
Publix now operates in seven states, expanding from only serving Florida through 1991. They have grown from 6 associates to over 201,000 and have never had a layoff as the company is employee owned. Their policy is to reward good work and promote from within the company.
Publix also protects and promotes its brand by limiting media to cover positive messages, declining coverage that does not reflect their core messaging.
The George Washington Jenkins Foundation, now known as Publix Supermarket Charities, was founded in 1966 from Mr. George’s funds. Today, they average $40-45 million a year in charitable donations which are just from the foundation and does not take into account what each Publix store does for their community, not to mention the countless hours of volunteer hours in which the associates engage.
Nonprofit organizations can apply to Publix for funding at Publix.com/request. Organizations do not need to be classified as a 501(c)(3) to apply.