Mitt Romney Was Right About Wawa

The man knows a good business when he sees it.

We’ve all heard by now that Mitt Romney was impressed by Wawa. And why shouldn’t he be? It’s an awesome business. Last summer, when we hosted six teenagers from Los Angeles who were playing in a local sports tournament, guess where they wanted to go every night after the game? Where else? Wawa, of course.

Wawa is an example of Philadelphia business at its best, a local company that gets its local customers. I will drive miles past a 7-Eleven to go to a Wawa. I hear that Sheetz is also pretty good, but who cares? I know, I’m gushing. Why?

It’s fast. Romney was right: Those self-service machines are terrific. And they’re the future. Sorry if you’re a minimum-wage employee. Better think ahead. Because it’s only a matter of time before Wawa starts installing self-service checkout lines too, just like Acme and Genuardi’s (or whatever they’re called this year) and the other supermarkets.

Let’s face it: Dealing with people is annoying. We like Facebook. Dark movie theaters. And machines that will scan your item and only give you crap if you don’t bag it correctly. I can handle that. Chit-chat at the register I can’t. I don’t want to be standing in line while the girl in front of me orders some ridiculous ice cream … sorry … coffee concoction that’s not even on the menu. (How do these people know these drinks exist?) At Wawa, I pour my coffee. I pay. I leave. This is a business that gets it.

Wawa’s a cheery place to visit. Just about every store, particularly the newer ones, feels spacious. Retail customers don’t want to be on top of each other. And, unless we’re visiting one of those dollar or thrift stores, we don’t want all the merchandise jammed together. And we definitely don’t want to feel like the merchandise has been there since Obama was elected. We want to be able to move around. And we want bright lighting too, which Wawa provides. Space. Fresh products. Ease of movement. Bright. Cheery. Wawa.

Wawa’s staff is well trained and seems to actually care about customers, a rarity in today’s retail industry. We seem welcome when we come in. Whenever I’m unfortunate enough to walk into a 7-Eleven, I feel like the married couple huddling behind the cash register is ready for me to trash the place and rob them of their life savings. I’m a short, bald, Jewish guy with a CPA license, and it’s pretty much the only place in the world I can go where people actually seem to fear me. Or intensely dislike me. Or both. Wawa employees are different. They’re always warm. They seem happy to be there. I’ve seen the same faces at my local Wawa for years. I question the long-term career choice of those folks, but I value their service.

I read recently that Wawa is expanding into Florida. I hope they don’t overdo it. One thing that has made Wawa a great company is its focus on this region. They own it. Some companies overextend themselves. Wawa, at least so far, hasn’t made that mistake. Be careful, my Wawa friends. Those guys at Sheetz are ready to pounce at your first sign of weakness.

My gripes? I’m a 47-year-old, beaten-down, angry guy. I always have gripes. For starters, remove those breakfast burritos from their location right next to the cash register. Are people really eating those things? For breakfast? Also, a little relish or a dab of mustard to the tuna/chicken salad would give this bland offering a much-needed kick. A low-fat selection of milkshakes, smoothies and snacks would be helpful to guys like me who are carrying around a few extra pounds. [Editor’s note to Gene: According to Wawa’s next CEO, some customers lose weight by eating at Wawa.] And a few self check-out stations? Well, I already mentioned that.

I may not agree with everything Mitt Romney says. And I definitely winced when he ordered a “sub,” but he was dead right about Wawa. They’re an example of a Philly business at its best.