It’s a Wawa World

Forget Comcast and Sunoco—the most powerful economic force in Philadelphia these days is the one making your Shorti. How our homegrown convenience store went from cult favorite … to superpower

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JEREMY PLAUCHE IS A burly, rowdy-looking guy—six feet, maybe 300 pounds, with the bold facial hair of a modern 24-year-old—but he admits that when he was getting the Wawa logo tattooed on his right inner biceps, the second “wa” kind of hurt. It’s just a little more tender in there closer to the torso. Totally worth it, though.
Plauche works night shifts for the rescue squad in Millville, New Jersey, where he also went to high school. It’s a little town about 45 miles south of Philadelphia, with a population of roughly 27,000 and four Wawas within about two miles. He’s made countless Wawa runs. He’s candid about his favorite product: “I’ll be honest with you—the peach iced tea.”

“I’m originally from Louisiana,” he says. “I tried to explain to my friends there what Wawa was and what it means to people who live up here … and they kind of didn’t believe me. Wawa is part of our culture. It’s part of our way of life.”
So he decided to let the body art speak. He photographed a Wawa sign and took the image to a tattoo parlor in Vineland, where they stabbed it into his flesh.

“I definitely proved my point,” he says. And there was a bonus: When Wawa found out, “I got the hookup for a little bit, free stuff for a while. I had coupons out the wazoo.”

By now, it’s obvious that Wawa, our homegrown convenience-store chain, has achieved the level of cult-like customer devotion that every consumer brand on the globe dreams about. To build a world-class cult, you need a core of gung-ho zealots and a mass of zombie followers, and Wawa is fully loaded in both categories. There are the five young women from West Chester who in 2009 completed an almost two-year trek to visit every Wawa in existence (then 586 stores). There are the high-school graduates who choose a college based at least partly on campus proximity to a Wawa, and there are the University of Maryland students who, when the company announced it would close an on-campus Wawa in 2007, flash-mobbed the closing store, “screaming and reminiscing,” according to the school paper. There’s the official Wawa page on Facebook, which has 753,394 “likes,” and there are the splinter Facebook groups, such as “People who miss Wawa” (after moving away from the store’s five-state realm) and one group called “If Wawa was a person I would get married to it.” And there are Scott Gaddis and Cindy Richardson, who in 2008 got married at the Wawa store in Abingdon, Maryland. (They conveniently had the reception there, too.)

Wawa’s cult status became official with a 2006 article about the company called “Convenience Cult?” in the New York Times Magazine (there are no Wawas in New York), which attributed the chain’s unlikely rock-star appeal to its yummy house-brand foods and friendly staff. (CEO Howard Stoeckel tells employees they’re not just making a sandwich; they’re helping their friends and neighbors have a better day.) The Times piece was inspired by a Harvard Business Review article that put Wawa’s customer service in the league of Nordstrom and the Ritz-Carlton.

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  • Zip

    Check your AP Stylebook, please. It’s “Canada” goose, not “Canadian” goose.

  • Katie

    The proposed Conshohocken Super Wawa that was stopped by a “hurtful Stop Wawa campaign on Facebook”, has not been stopped. Despite the 300 residents shouting at a Borough meeting, “we don’t want it, we don’t need it”(http://tinyurl.com/3gwa62g), the developers push full speed ahead.

    Behind the scenes they are making sure the deal quietly moves forward. Morethanthecurve.com has reported a rumored organized effort funded by developers and lawyers to “put in place developer friendly municipal governments and solicitors (borough/township lawyers) across Montco” (http://tinyurl.com/3sjtck6).

    Residents see a critical change to the fiber of Conshohocken if this is developed. This Wal-Mart like megastore will endanger the delis, gas stations, retail and convenience stores, throughout Conshohocken. This would be the third Wawa in the immediate area and will lead to at least ½ a dozen local gas stations almost immediately closing. Sites that cannot quickly be redeveloped because of the underground storage tanks and environmental issues they pose. Making matters worse, this Super Wawa will have diesel fuel, bringing delivery trucks 24/7 through the residential community.

    Residents along Fayette Street vehemently oppose it, for traffic reasons, children safety and the future of their neighborhood. Concerns that fall by the wayside of Wawa attorneys/developers. facebook.com/stopwawa.

  • Fred

    While Wawa is certainly the pride of the Philadelphia area, it should be noted that in the late 1980′s, an internal scandal at Wawa resulted in the hiring of a New York-area purchaser who broke contracts with all Philadelphia vendors and signed on with primarily New York companies. It was not the fault of the family in charge of Wawa, but it was an embarrassing part of the history. I represent a family that lost 80 percent of our business because of that incident, so I am slightly bitter but I think it still is worth mentioning.

  • Amber

    I’m orginally from western PA and a veteran Sheetz customer. When I relocated to the Bucks County area three years ago, I couldn’t understand why there weren’t any Sheetz around, All Wawas. I mostly stick to 7-11 for coffee, and wawa for gas. Nothing Wawa makes compares to a Sheetz MTO!

  • Joe

    I think its funny when you hear about these communities opposing wawa’s being put in their towns. It’s funny because when it does finally get pushed through the approval process and the wawa opens for business, all of those masses who had previously opposed the store are suddenly frequent shoppers. If you don’t like wawa then dont shop there and go ahead and pay 20 more cents a gallon on gas at the dot shop station across the street where the indian guy is talking on his cell phone the whole time and couldnt give 2 shits about you.

  • Concerned

    I wonder what percentage of the resistance to the Wawa in Conshochocken is by business owners on Fayette, specifically gas station owners. I have no pity for the prospects of an oligarchy that charges 10-20 cents more per gallon on average than every surrounding community. Stop gouging the customers, and we won’t demand alternatives.