(FORBES) — Family-run Publix is both the largest employee-owned company and the most profitable grocer in America. Those two facts are linked, and they might be the formula for fending off Bentonville’s retail behemoth.

Passing through Publix’s sliding doors to escape the blistering Lakeland, Fla. heat is a welcome relief, but it isn’t just the air-conditioning that jumps out at you. As you walk the aisles, bag boys and clerks in sage-green shirts and black aprons routinely smile and ask questions: “How are you today? Can we help you with anything?”

When a middle-aged woman asks about a box of crackers, no aisle number is blurted out. Instead, an employee races off to find the item, just as he is trained to do. At checkout, shoppers move to the front quickly, thanks to a two-customer-per-line goal enforced by proprietary, predictive staffing software. Baggers, a foggy memory at most large supermarket chains, carry purchases to the parking lot. Even Publix’s president, Todd Jones, who started out as a bagger 33 years ago, stoops down to pick up specks of trash on the store floor.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.