Retailers

Women of Color Inspiring Amazon Fresh

From ‘secret sauces’ to leading with a ‘day one’ mindset, three store managers share their stories
Amazon Fresh
Photograph by WGB staff

While all eyes are on the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., where workers are voting on whether to unionize, WGB had the opportunity to connect with three store managers of Amazon Fresh locations in Southern California to discuss their perspective on what it’s like to work for the Seattle-based e-tailer with a rapidly growing physical grocery operation.

Deanna Cabrera, Meyali Plascencia and Monjay Morgan are all store managers and women of color who lead Amazon Fresh locations in Northridge, Woodland Hills and Ladera Heights, respectively. Each of them, individually and collectively, say they have found a new “home” and career at Amazon where they feel valued, supported and excited to come to work each day.

Cabrera, who manages Northridge, has been in retail for 25 years. “At Amazon, our environment is inclusive. We have so many women who run our businesses within the company. Many of my peers are also women of color. Just to be a part of that is inspiring,” says the mother of four who sees herself as the “momma bear” of the Northridge store.

Deanna Cabrera of Amazon Fresh
Deanna Cabrera, Amazon Fresh

Plascencia, store manager of the first Amazon Fresh in Woodland Hills (dubbed ‘S1, Best 1’) also describes an inclusive workplace with a “non-bias interview process that allows people to show their different strengths.” On her first day at Amazon Fresh, the mother of a seven-year-old learned of the “Amomzonians” mothers’ group where fellow moms at Amazon Fresh get together to talk and share a sense of community. “It’s no secret, if you take care of your people, they’ll take care of the business,” she adds.

Amazon Fresh
Meyali Plascencia, Amazon Fresh

For Morgan, who “comes from a strong line of women” and along with her sister, represents the first generation in her family to go to college, the career possibilities for female leadership at Amazon are “endless.” “A lot of our businesses are run by women,” says Morgan of the company. “In terms of pay, last year alone women earned 100 cents for every dollar earned by men, and there’s a lot of room to grow.”

Amazon Fresh
Monjay Morgan, Amazon Fresh

Every Day is ‘Day One’

In every annual report, Jeff Bezos reportedly attaches a copy of his original 1997 letter to shareholders, in which he outlined the fundamentals of Amazon’s potential success, including a “relentless focus on customers, creating long-term value over short-term profit, and making many bold bets,” says the company. “This is Day 1 for the Internet,” Bezos wrote, “and, if we execute well, for Amazon.com.”

“The Day One is both a culture and an operating model that puts the customer at the center of everything Amazon does,” adds the company.

Imagine sustaining the bloom on the retailing rose for nearly 25 years with the same enthusiasm as opening day. That’s exactly what’s happening at Amazon Fresh, say Cabrera, Plascencia and Morgan.

“We always go back to Day 1,” and that obsession with the customer experience, says Cabrera, who explains that Amazon hires a diverse group of managers and employees and then encourages its people to make things happen. “They look to us. They look to the field for the ideas and the solutions. That’s super empowering,” she asserts. “We’re a part of the process.”

For example, when it came to pandemic response, Amazon Fresh looked to its store managers for direction and implementation of safety protocols. “I feel like a COVID expert and I have to add that on my resume,” says Cabrera, who explains that the grocer’s management team actively embraced COVID compliance, and she herself created an outdoor breakroom that allowed the team to safely convene and spend time off the store floor. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and my leadership in the last year,” she adds.

“It’s always ‘Day 1’,” Plascencia affirms. “I think because we’re so new. That Day 1 [mindset] really resets with every [store opening].” While Amazon Fresh recently opened its Long Beach, Calif. store, its 12th in the country, the excitement remains among shoppers and employees alike, she adds. “It still feels like Day 1, so a year from now I anticipate that Day 1 excitement.”

Amazon’s Backwards Thinking

The store managers with whom WGB spoke also conveyed the importance of Amazon’s “customer obsession” as being a key ingredient in its success.

“What led me to Amazon was the different way of thinking. Amazon operates extremely different in that we work backwards,” says Plascencia. “So, we start at the customer experience—and we truly, truly mean that—we obsess over what they want and we deliver results at the end. In everything we do, we think about the impact on the customer.”

“We always put the customer first,” agrees Morgan, for whom connecting with customers and creating community is the highlight of her career. “I love it,” she says of the grocery business. To have a place where people can come and share a sense of community in-store is so important.

At the Ladera Heights store, a sign with Morgan’s photo welcomes shoppers to ask for her by name and connect. Most often, she says, shoppers just want to tell her how much they enjoy the prepared foods, fresh produce and other products in-store.

“The exciting part is working for the largest corporation in the world and being able to use my past experience and help deliver amazing results with customer obsession,” says Cabrera, who values the opportunity to be a part of something, create and pave the way for future stores.” We hire people who have same alignment and passion, and I think that’s what has made us successful.”

Secret Sauce

This combination of “working backwards” and a “Day 1” mentality are what Plascencia and her fellow store managers believe are the key to Amazon Fresh’s success.

“We come to work everyday with same excitement and enthusiasm. I love Monjay and Deanna, but I still want to beat them,” reveals Plascencia, who says the trio of savvy store managers share all of their “secret sauces.” “We win as a team, but at the same time we only get better by challenging each other. And when I fail, I tell them what I did and how I failed miserably. So, it’s not only [important to] share successes, but failures as well.

 “We don’t win as individuals; we win as a community. We win as a brand. We win as Amazon,” she continues. “We have the humility to step back and ask how to get better. If we have customer experience at the forefront of what we want to do in the business and the results we want to deliver, we’re going to be unstoppable.”

 

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