More than milk, hoagies, or gas, willingness to change accounts for Wawa’s longevity

     A Wawa store at 11th and Arch streets in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    A Wawa store at 11th and Arch streets in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Wawa started about two centuries ago as an iron foundry in New Jersey.  Then it became a dairy in the early 20th century.

    Now, Wawa celebrates 50 years as a quick-stop food retailer, though the shape and focus of that retail mission has evolved nearly as much as the original business.

    NewsWorks Tonight Host Dave Heller spoke with former Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel about the business, its focus on customers and employees, and Stoeckel’s new book “The Wawa Way: How a Funny Name and Six Core Values Revolutionized Convenience.”

    “When we opened the first store back in 1964, basically Wawa was the alternative to the supermarket,” said Stoeckel.  “We sold dairy, deli, produce, bread, and grocery items.”

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    That changed in the early 1970’s when Wawa started selling hot coffee, a product now nearly synonymous with the name.

    The year 1996 brought another change, says Stoeckel.  “We decided to test gas,” he said.  “And we opened our first store in Millsboro, Delaware…and ever since then, every store we build has gas.”

    So how has a company that operates in just five states been able to stay so competitive against a slew of national chains?  “Trying different things,” he said.  “We’ve had our share of things that haven’t worked over the years as well as our share of successes, and I think it’s important to keep the company young.  We’re 50 years young, not 50 years old.”

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