TRINITY, Fla. - The checkout line at Publix is like clockwork. They seem to have an obsession with detail, especially when they're opening a new store.
"Everything down every aisle every product; everything is perfect," says Publix spokesperson Brian West as we stand in a new store, days before its grand opening in the Pasco County community of Trinity.
Publix is one of the fastest growing grocery chains in the nation, but they say their success doesn't come easy.
"It's a lot of hard work," says district manager Patrick Helm. "We don't unlock the doors and it works like magic."
Maybe not magic, but the chain has enjoyed close to supernatural success in the very competitive supermarket business. We got to see their systems in action as they raced to get a new store ready for its grand opening.
The sunrise comes with 14 days to stock and open this new store. It's 45,000 square feet, mostly empty right now. "This is our wine aisle," Helm motions as we walk along the empty shelves. And workers are installing more shelves.
There will eventually be a mind-boggling 2.7 miles of shelving. "We'll have pallets," says Helm. "We'll have groceries all over this store."
Over the next few days, we watch a seemingly endless stream of pallets arrive. They're delivered by tractor trailers from Lakeland. It takes 40 loads to fill a Publix of this size. To open on time, everyone has to be on schedule.
Health and beauty products go up first. Produce comes last. But there's a whole lot in between.
"It's all about planning and having the right people in the right spot," says Joel Copeland, Publix merchandiser.
The right people are teams of experienced Publix employees pulled from different stores around the region -- people like Laura Meehan, an assistant manager at a Publix store in Mulberry who started with the company 25 years ago.
"My family works for Publix; aunts, uncles, cousins," she laughs. "I guess it was in my blood."
From best workplace awards to word of mouth, Publix has earned a reputation for its company culture. They believe well-trained, long-term employees are a big part of their success.
With just a few days until the grand opening, they turn it up a notch. "You'll probably have about 300 or 400 people in here just setting groceries on the shelves," says Helm.
All kinds of soap. All kinds of soup and everything else. On average there are 60,000 to 80,000 items in a Publix. Before this store opens, every single one of them has to go on the correct shelf. We got to see one of their secrets. It's called a Planagram.
"Everything in this store is going to be set to a Planagram," says Helm. The Planagram tells them how much product gets how much shelf space.
It's based on Publix sales data and the demographics of the particular community where the store is located. Another Publix may look the same, "but, each store is different," says Copeland. "We set these stores up for the demographics so we can take care of customers in this specific area."
As the store fills up, anticipation builds. It's not just about what's in the store. It's also about who is in the store. It's a brand new Publix, but there won't be even one brand new employee. Everyone here has already worked at other stores learning the Publix way.
"To make Publix 'Where Shopping Is a Pleasure,' they understand our culture," says Helm. It's the culture Helm discovered when he started with Publix at age 14. He says it's like a family.
"And everybody cares for you. They care about your growth and your development," he says. "They care
about who you are as a person, they want to see you succeed."
SQUASH AND MORE
By now, it's controlled chaos and the produce section is about to bloom. "Because our product is fresh, we don't receive our product until the very last day," says Publix produce manager Keith Piliego.
Every Publix gets a delivery of fresh produce seven days a week, but this store opens tomorrow and Piliego wants the produce aisles to be the star of the show. "Meat may be the center of the plate, but produce is definitely the center of attention," he grins. He directs an elaborate layout of squash. The produce guys want perfection, but they need perfection now.
"It is very stressful for us because we're down to the last wire here," says Piliego. It's the last chance to impress. After all the products are set, they clean and they clean some more. "And when It's done, you really have to step back and go Wow! look at that," smiles West -- just in time.
OPEN THE DOORS
"A Publix grand opening is the Disney World of grocery stores," laughs Helm. More than a hundred people lined up to be among the first to walk into the new store, the 1,112th Publix to open.
The store is full of customers focused on how new and fresh everything looks. They don't know the detail and planning that went into it. It wasn't easy.
"We go through so many changes, the highs and the lows," says Helm. "But they're all good for us. This is Publix. This is what we do. It's who we are."
It's how they turn an empty building into a Publix -- and they're already planning for the next one.