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

 Wawa CEO Stoeckel told me pretty much the same thing. We were sitting in the tiny back room of the Columbus Boulevard Wawa, where the company was debuting a store design featuring a gigantic open kitchen jutting out in the shape of a bay window, to take up maybe a quarter of the store’s area.

“More and more of our product today is for immediate consumption: I’m thirsty, I’m hungry, I need nicotine, I need caffeine, I need gasoline, I need money at an ATM machine,” Stoeckel said, I suppose rhyming intentionally. (He also likes somewhat cringe-worthy acronyms. After becoming the company’s first non-Wood-family CEO in 2004, he created a strategy called UNO, for “unique experience, nimbleness and opportunity.” Wawa rewards exemplary employees based on an evaluation called CHAMP, for “consistent action, heartfelt, awe-inspiring, meaningful and progressive.”)

“Our customers want us to solve immediate–gratification needs.” Stoeckel told me. “That’s where all of our growth is.”
Stoeckel was at the Columbus Boulevard store in part to star in a video, to be shown to employees, extolling the virtues of the newish handmade smoothies. He wore a mustard-colored chef’s hat and mugged for the camera with store manager Matt Duca. Stoeckel finished the shoot by getting a dollop of whipped cream from a mango crème smoothie on his nose and reciting one of the company’s awkward marketing bywords: “That’s appetizing!

WAWA’S BIG NUMBERS are humongous, but its small numbers are tiny, because you can’t get big without thinking small. As rhymers say, retail is detail. There’s barely a square inch in a Wawa store that isn’t exactly the way it is for a reason. The main goal: cutting a few seconds off the time you spend there. Starbucks built its cult following by making its stores inviting places to linger for an hour; Wawa stays popular by getting everyone the hell out.

“But we want ’em back two more times that day,” says David Johnston, Wawa’s chief operations officer.

Everything is designed for speed, which translates to turnover, customer contentment and, essentially, profit. The touch screens at deli counters let customers speedily handpick ingredients for their hoagie or prime-rib-in-a-bowl and also enable “upselling” of add-ons like cookies, chips and mashed potatoes. The placement of coffee stirrers, the “on ramp” space at checkout counters—it’s all engineered. Ray Cavanaugh-, Wawa’s director of operations engineering, told me that over the past few years, the company has shaved one and a half seconds from the typical cash transaction and five seconds from the average credit buy.

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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.