The Wawa Way

wawa_416x416Strumings readers in the Philadelphia area all know and love Wawa, which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary as a convenience store (c-store) chain. Wawa now has 600+ stores throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and now Florida. Residents outside these states wish they could be daily customers.

I know Wawa not just as a frequent customer but also as a marketer. At Earle Palmer Brown/Philadelphia, where I was President in the early 90s, we handled the Wawa advertising and public relations accounts. I have to admit I didn’t give Wawa enough credit in that era. Wawa was going through their “Dark Days” as my former client, Howard Stoeckel, former CEO and currently their Vice Chairman, would call that period in his terrific book, The Wawa Way, published earlier this year.

During the early 90s Wawa was experimenting, often unsuccessfully, with various product offerings and Howard had been assigned the marketing responsibilities during that time and had previously been their VP, Human Resources. Customer head count and profits were soft and Wawa had not yet committed to becoming the mega-gasoline retailer it would become. As a result the marketing wasn’t well focused either. And then they appointed the “HR guy” (Howard) as VP Marketing. “Oh boy, isn’t this going to be fun”, I said to myself back then.

Truth of the matter is that Howard was and still is a brilliant, yet humble, man, a natural leader who did not claim to have the answers but understood the right questions, a key leadership trait. He truly lived the concept of “servant leadership” and was a strong leader of Wawa’s marketing and ultimately, their entire company. And under his leadership Wawa grew and became the the C-Store industry gold standard, dominating its geography.

Simply, the key to Wawa’s success are their core values:

Value People
Delight Customers
Embrace Change
Do Things Right
Do The Right Thing
Have a Passion for Winning

I’ve worked with hundreds of companies throughout my career and most them talk about their company culture, core values, mission and vision. Most often their stated values and real values are not aligned. Many mouth snappy mottos like “Quality first” and “Customer is King” yet their employees don’t live it, and their customers don’t believe it.

Wawa is not a perfect organization, but my experience back then as their marketing agency and as a long time customer is that they truly live their values, and the underlying reasons for their success is they seek to “execute with excellence” as I heard Howard say many years ago.

In short, Wawa is a damn fine company that has evolved well over the years and I suspect will continue to thrive in the future. When a company’s compass points north and their actions and values are truly aligned, success is the natural outgrowth.

Lastly, Wawa made me a hero to our daughter, Carolyn. As she wrote in a 4th grade essay, called My Hero.“My dad is my hero because when we do not have any dessert at home he takes me to the Wawa”. Thank you, Wawa. Though she now lives in New York City and can no longer visit Wawa daily, I still take her to Wawa for dessert whenever I can. A dad needs all the help he can get.

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