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.