Stew Leonard joined the family dairy business at a young age delivering milk door-to-door in his truck. In the late sixties, he realized that the milk delivery business was dying and decided to open a dairy store in Norwalk,Connecticut, where children could watch milk being bottled while their parents shopped.
Since then, he has built on his core idea. The store sells only around 2,000 well-chosen products (as opposed to the nearly 30,000 carried by a traditional grocery store), and throughout the store, several friendly employees demonstrate how those products can be used to make delicious dishes–and hand out samples. While shopping, you can see the milk bottling plant in operation, a video explaining dairy production, several animatronics singing the praises of produce, model trains, costumed store mascots, and an outdoor petting zoo. Grocery shopping at Stew Leonard’s is not a chore but a pleasant experience.
The store does annual sales of more than $200 million per year. In 1992, it earned an entry into The Guinness Book of World Records for having the greatest sales per unit area of any single food store in America. It is the world’s largest dairy store, happens to sell more coffee than any other retail outlet in the world, and is a fixture on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
At the entrance of the store stands a large granite rock with the inscription:
Rule #1 — The Customer is Always Right.
Rule #2 – If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Re-Read Rule #1
At the exit is “The Bags around the World Wall” that shows that the policy works. Some years ago, a customer visiting Moscow sent Stew a photograph of herself standing in front of the Kremlin holding a Stew Leonard’s bag; Stew proudly put the enlarged photograph on the wall near checkout. Since then, more and more customers kept sending in photographs from around the world, and he kept putting them up. The only other enlarged photograph on the wall is that of two Third Army soldiers holding a Stew Leonard’s bag infront of a newly liberated Baghdad monument.
One day I ran into Stew Leonard when both of us were grocery shopping at his store. I thanked him for building such a remarkable store and told him that I show off his store to visitors to the area as an example of what is possible in America today. He shook my hand vigorously and exclaimed, “You, sir, made my day!”