Stew Leonard'sForget data driven decision-making and advanced analytics for a moment. Maybe the best way to measure customer experience is the simplest — and is crystalized in a single cup of lemonade. 

If you're trying to rationalize the connection between a slightly tart beverage and sweet engagement with your customers, you're making your first mistake. The connection has less to do with what you think than what you feel. This is not marketing Kool-Aid. This is time-tested, actual advice that turned a small store into a $400 million a year regional chain. Want a sip?

The Customer is Always Right

Contrary to what you have been told to believe, the customer is not always right. They lie. They exaggerate. Sometimes they are simply unreasonable. But those realities don't get in the way of the corporate philosophy at Stew Leonard's, a Norwalk, Conn.-based specialty food store.

At each of the four Stew Leonard's stores, the company policy is carved into a five-foot slab of rock that's strategically placed near the main doors. "Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1."

The Stew Leonard’s culture is built around an acronym for S.T.E.W.:

  • Satisfy the customer
  • Work together as a Team
  • Strive for Excellence in everything you do
  • Get the customer to say WOW

And the strategy has worked. Since it was founded in 1969, Stew Leonard's has evolved from a small dairy store with seven employees to a regional chain with more than 2,000 employees.

A Dairy Gone Wild

It's basically a dairy store gone wild. There's produce, an in-store bakery, meat and fish, a large selection of prepared foods, select groceries … oh, and dairy products. In addition to its original location, there are Stew Leonard's stores in Danbury and Newington, Conn. and Yonkers, N.Y.

The New York Times dubbed it the “Disneyland of Dairy Stores” and it was selected to Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” list for 10 consecutive years.

But more importantly, it seems to have won the hearts of its customers. As Laurie Danzi of suburban New York City explained after a recent shopping trip, "I love going to Stew's because of the people. Everyone smiles, and that makes me smile, too."

What Matters

In an interview with CMSWire, John Fallon, director of marketing at Stew Leonard's, said the retailer is people-centric. As he explained, "I can teach someone how to cut meat. I can't teach someone to care about people."

And that brings us back to that cup of lemonade.