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Leadership and Serving: Publix vs. Kroger

When I first started serving as a volunteer at church our leader gave an analogy that has stuck with me. It is my goto example I have told over the years to each team I lead. He said, “you need to have a Publix vs. Kroger attitude when leading and serving.” Next, he laid out a simple, yet profound way to understand what he wanted us to do.

Let’s Go Grocery Shopping!

Have you ever shopped at Publix or Kroger? I’m willing to bet most of you reading this have done so, probably more than once. Think back to your first time walking into the store. For you seasoned shopping veterans this may be a challenge. Hold that thought and, instead, allow me to ask a few simple questions. Did you know where everything on your list was located? Most likely not. At which point you are dealt with two primary options you can use to find the missing items.


Option one, you engage in an infuriating game of hide-and-seek throughout the entire store. Some wasted time later you discover the item in question laughing at you a mere aisle over from whence you originally started searching. This is the default option for us men. We don’t require direction or maps; our manliness and ego are enough to locate even the most undiscoverable of items. Yeah, right. I definitively know where two things are in a grocery store, the entrance, and exit.

Ask an Associate

Option two comes either after you are beaten from hide-and-seek or you’re a veteran and don’t have time for childish games, therefore, you choose to go straight to the source: a store associate. Store associates know where most everything is in the store by design (training) or from experience. Simply ask them where an item is and they generally know right where it should be or at least what aisle it should be on. The differing experiences in this option are what I would like to explore in greater detail.

Publix vs. Kroger Experience


A majority of the time when I visit Kroger and ask an associate where an item is they simply respond, “that should be on aisle X,” which is often accompanied by finger-pointing in the direction of the aisle. This is the typical response no matter if the associate is busy or not. I want to be clear about what I regard as a busy associate. I am referring to someone stocking shelves, sweeping floors, returning items to the shelves, etc. not those who are helping other customers. On several occasions, I have asked the same associate more than once where an item was because I could not find it even after being given direction. Each time I was met with the same verbal and hand-pointing response.


In contrast, when I visit Publix I have a much different experience. In Publix, if I ask an associate where an item is, the response is night and day. The associate stops whatever they are doing and kindly takes me to the item I have requested. Not only do they help me find the item I asked about, they ask, “is there anything else I can help you find?” If you say ‘yes’, they will again escort you to the newly requested item’s location. If you choose to respond with ‘no’, they reply, “if you do need more help, please let me know and I will be glad to assist you.” Wow! What an awesome way to shop. The incredible characteristic is it does not matter if the associate is the manager, assistant manager, stocker, cashier, department-specific, or floor sweeper the attitude towards the customer is always the same.

The Difference Experienced

The difference between Publix and Kroger’s experiences are quite clear. The Kroger experience is not necessarily wrong, but Publix customer service crushes it and then some. When I train an individual or a team, I start with that comparison right out of the gate. I want to set the tone for what is expected of my team. I want us to crush expectations and deliver a Publix experience to everyone we encounter.

Here are three quick thoughts I add to reinforce the comparison:

  1. It starts with the top. The correct attitude and service start with the leader and trickles downward. John Maxwell said it best, “If you wouldn’t follow yourself, why should anyone else?”
  2. Take, don’t point. We offer solutions to help people get to where they need to go, we don’t just point and let them figure it out. We then ask the question, “how else can I help you?”
  3. Love people. This is arguably the most important piece of advice I give that was given to me. At the end of the day, we are called to love those around us. If we can do that effectively and genuinely, we will succeed at taking care of those we are serving.

Do you walk the talk and provide a Publix vs. Kroger experience? Does your team do the same? Take some time and evaluate how you can improve your team’s ability to better serve people. If you don’t lead a team, what are some ways you could improve the way you engage with your customers?

Photo of boxer by Attentie Attentie on Unsplash

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