How a Funny Name and Six Core Values Revolutionized Convenience

THE WAWA WAY

Win the Hearts of Your Customers

In August 2011, Philadelphia magazine described a burly, 300-pound, 24-year-old man named Jeremy Plauche, getting the logo of a convenience store called Wawa tattooed on his inner biceps. Plauche, according to the magazine, works night shifts for the rescue squad in Millville, NJ, but is originally from Louisiana. “I tried to explain to my friends there what Wawa was and what it means to people who live up here… and they kind of didn’t believe me,” Plauche tells the magazine. “Wawa is part of our culture. It’s part of our way of life.”

From the couples who marry at the Wawa where they met to the Facebook group People Who Miss Wawa How, consisting of former Wawa customers who have left the chain’s service area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and now Florida), Wawa is indeed a way of life for its fans. How does a regional convenience store elicit such devotion from its customers and even its employees (like those who kept a store on Long Beach Island open during much of Superstorm Sandy even though some had had their houses washed out to sea)? The history and principles of Wawa, as presented by former Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel in a new book, The Wawa Way, can offer lessons for any business seeking to engender fanatic customer and employee loyalty.

Private and Shared Ownership

One key to Wawa’s success, according to Stoeckel, is its unique ownership structure. Nearly 40 percent of the company is owned by the Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP), with the rest owned by Wood family members. The shared ownership with Wawa “associates” motivates all employees to make the stores a success, Stoeckel writes. Perhaps even more important, Wawa does not face the short-term pressures of a public company. “We’re not making decisions, as a lot of companies do, based on what Wall Street analysts or minority investors will think,” Stoeckel writes. “We’re making decisions based on the best long-term interests of the business.” One example are the concrete posts in front of every store to prevent customers parked in front of the store from accidentally plowing into the store (as happened a number of times). Deciding to put the posts in front of every single store “was hard to justify in terms of return on investment, but in terms of living our values and protecting people, it was the right thing to do.”

The Six Core Values

The true secret to Wawa’s success, however, is that it lives its six core values, Stoeckel writes. The ESOP and concrete barriers are just two examples of Wawa’s core value of “valuing people.” Stoeckel also recounts numerous stories of how associates “delight customers,” from bringing a Thanksgiving dinner to a wheelchair-bound customer who would be alone for the holiday, to lending a $200 coffee pot to a customer when the store ran out of coffee-to-go boxes (the customer cared for an invalid spouse and usually bought a coffee-to-go box every morning). The Wawa Way is also filled with examples of how the company follows its remaining four core values: “embrace change,” such as the decision to add fuel to its business model; “do things right,” “do the right thing,” and “have a passion for winning.”

Any company will have ups and downs, and Stoeckel is candid about some mistakes the company has made – including a poorly thought-out strategy for adding fuel to the mix in the 1980s and some questionable products. Wawa continues to excite the passion of its customers, however, because as it moves through different strategies and decisions, it continues to remain true to its core values and traditions. This is a manual on delighting customers.

The Third Metric to Redefining Success

THRIVE

Don’t Judge Yourself; Don’t Judge Others

“The architecture of how we live our lives is badly in need of renovation and repair,” writes Arianna Huffington, founder of the media company the Huffington Post. “What we really value is out of sync with how we live our lives.” The reason, she argues in her new book called Thrive, is that success has come to be defined by two things: money and power.

To achieve money and power, men and women are living unsustainable, high-stressed, non-stop lives that physically destroy their bodies, leave little time for joy and reflection, and culminate in the realization that acquiring money and power is not the fulfilling quest of a life well lived. As former Merrill Lynch managing director Roseann Palmieri explains, “I’m at the table. I’ve made it. I’ve networked, I’ve clawed, I’ve said ‘yes,’ I’ve said ‘no,’ I’ve put in all this time and effort and I was underwhelmed. What I was getting back was not acceptable to me.”

For Huffington, the current success metrics of money and power are only two legs of a three-legged stool. Without a “third metric” based on well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, our lives, like the defective stool, topple over, she writes. In the early pages of her book, she presents a range of evidence, from alarming health statistics to stories of highly “successful” yet unsatisfied people who left their careers, that proves the adverse impact on both men and women of today’s high-stress quest for money and power.

Huffington believes the path to the third metric will be especially blazed by the career women who find the current metrics of successful “not acceptable.” “If we’re going to redefine what success means,” she writes, “if we are going to include a Third Metric to success, beyond money and power, it’s going to be women who will lead the way – and men, freed of the notion that the only road to success includes taking the Heart Attack Highway to Stress City, will gratefully join both at work and at home.”

The Shimmer of Rain

Having made the case that a third metric of success is vital, Huffington then explores in four inspiring, information-packed chapters how to bring “well-being,” “wisdom,” “wonder” and “giving” back into our lives. Huffington – who recalls how her mother, who never went to college, “would still preside over long sessions in our small kitchen in Athens discussing the principles and teachings of Greek Philosophy to help guide my sister, Agapi, and me in our decisions and in our choices” – weaves ancient and modern philosophy, academic research, and stories and quotes of successful people, from the world-renowned to the ordinary ladder-climbers who realize that the view from the top is not enough to make the journey worthwhile.

The Experience of Wonder

The opening pages of her chapter on wonder are typical. Huffington begins with short anecdotes about experiencing a sense of wonder on a drive to an airport, as the falling rain “gave everything a beautiful, almost magical, shimmer.” At the airport, she hears everyone complaining about the rain: wonder is in the eye of the beholder. She offers a beautiful short poem on rain by Albert Huffstickler, then quickly moves the reader through discussions on the wonder of children (“Mommy, what makes it go?” one of her young daughters once asked as they watched the star-filled sky); the wonder at the root of spirituality, which is not religion; wonder as the connection between outer space and inner space; how photography interrupts wonder (“…by so-obsessively documenting our experiences, we never truly have them); the power of love, backed by a Harvard study; art museums as oases of wonder – all in the first six pages of a fascinating 45-page chapter.

The chapter ends, as with all her chapters, with three simple practices to help people live in the moment: when stressed, focus on the rising and falling of your breath for 10 seconds; pick an image that ignites joy in you, and go to it whenever you feel “contracted”; don’t judge yourself; don’t judge others; “then look at your life and the day ahead with newness and wonder.”

Thrive, as it should be, is a book to be savored. There is so much learning and wisdom in these pages that one might be tempted to take notes. But as with photography on a vacation, they would only interrupt the enjoyment of one of those books that everyone should have within reach at all times.

77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits

LOW-HANGING FRUIT

77 Ways to an Easy Win

Former McKinsey consultant Jeremy Eden and former banker Terri Long, authors of a new book called Low-Hanging Fruit, believe that despite the myriad management theories, concepts, processes, mindsets, frameworks and case studies that have filled the management bookshelves for decades — most companies are not doing even the simplest of actions that could lead to significant improvement in productivity and results. They are, according to Eden and Long, ignoring the “low hanging fruit”: easy, affordable and quick ways to eliminate waste and boost performance. In Low-Hanging Fruit, the authors offer 77 ways to achieve these easy wins.

What’s Wrong With a Big Tomato?

The first step, according to the authors, is to see the fruit that is within easy reach. “Seeing the problem,” they write, “is harder than solving the problem.” For example, the authors describe a food company’s popular and profitable tomato sauce product that features large tomato dices. So where’s the problem? The company eventually discovered that the large tomato dices were clogging their machines, causing several hundred thousand dollars in equipment shutdowns a year. Upon further investigation, they learned that consumers actually preferred smaller pieces of tomato. By replacing large tomato dices with smaller ones, the company saved $500,000 a year — and made customers happier! Just because a product is popular and profitable doesn’t mean that there is not a problem that could be easily resolved.

The food company’s discovery of its big-tomato problem was revealed when it “value engineered” its tomato sauce. Value engineering, the authors explain, “is a powerful process used to discover and eliminate all of the elements in a product or service that customers do not value but that cost the company money.” By searching for an undiagnosed problem, value engineering can lead a company to low-hanging fruit, such as replacing large pieces of tomato with smaller pieces — and it is just one of the authors’ 77 paths to similar low-hanging fruit.

The first 10 of the 77 offer suggestions for discovering problems; in addition to value engineering, these suggestions include asking “why” five times, not accepting guesses as truths, looking at statistics with skepticism, and avoiding benchmarking (a complete waste of time since no company is doing exactly what you are doing, the authors write.) In the remaining 67 short, pithy chapters of the book, the authors focus their low-hanging fruit ideas around key topics such as how to solve problems you’ve uncovered, motivating your team, increasing company-wide collaboration, or keeping everyone accountable.

Saving Time the Easy Way

For example, in a section entitled, “Need More Time? It’s Easier To Find Than You Think!,” the authors suggested that low-hanging fruit actions include:

  • Replacing agendas with game plans. Instead of promises of information (“Marketing is giving us an update on project earnings growth”) or general goals (“We need alignment on a new product launch”), a meeting’s game plan should list specific outcomes expected from the meeting (e.g., make a decision, solve a problem); materials to be prepared and read before the meeting; expected next steps confirmed at the meeting.
  • Ban meeting tourists. Only the right people should be at the meeting. If there are participants with limited roles, their participation should be limited to those roles.
  • Don’t have a 60-minute meeting to do 22 minutes of work. There is no law that meetings need to be in 30-minute increments. Allot the time you need, and not more.
  • The obligation to dissent. If someone has a problem with a decision, they should speak up at the meeting — not in a private meeting with the CEO later. The objection might be valid, which then requires the CEO to revisit the issue… and schedule another meeting.

Eden and Long are not smart book-packagers who have simply aggregated a list of 77 insightful tips and suggestions. As co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings Group, the authors developed the concepts in Low-Hanging Fruit through their work with the CEOs of major companies such as PNC Financial, H.J. Heinz and Manpower. Every manager moving through the many ideas packed into this concise book will no doubt come away with at least a few ideas to implement immediately.

Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

THE HARD THING ABOUT HARD THINGS

Welcome to the Real World

“The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal,” writes Silicon Valley veteran Ben Horowitz, co-founder, with Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, of the venture capitalist firm Horowitz Andreessen. “The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those ‘great people’ develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things.” In other words, most business and management books might offer some basic advice, but according to Horowitz, they don’t really help the “hard things” about a situation. “The hard thing isn’t dreaming big,” he writes, ending his litany of examples. “The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”

No Recipe

Horowitz, who was also co-founder of the software firm Opsware, knows a thing or two about nightmares. The stories of his Silicon Valley adventures can best be described as harrowing. There was the time, for example, that Opsware was about to lose its largest customer, EDS, which accounted for an astounding 90 percent of its revenue. The loss would have meant sure bankruptcy. The Opsware team transformed the EDS account decision-maker, a bitter man who thought life was against him, from a sworn enemy into an ally by responding to his personal needs.

The EDS rescue and many other cliffhanger experiences make Horowitz eminently qualified to write a book about how to take on the hard things. He is quick to point out, however, that The Hard Thing About Hard Things doesn’t offer a recipe for dealing with challenges: “There’s no recipe for really complicated, dynamic situations,” he writes. However, “there are many bits of advice and experience that can help with the hard things.” Horowitz intersperses detailed stories from his experience with straightforward advice on such topics as “when things fall apart,” “take care of the people, the products and the profits — in that order” and “how to lead even when you don’t know where you are going.”

One of the first bits of advice in the “when things fall apart” section that Horowitz offers is to forget positivity. Like many CEOs, Horowitz thought it was up to him to shoulder all the bad news alone. Then he asked his blue-collar brother-in-law about a senior executive in the brother-in-law’s company. “Yeah, I know Fred,” his brother-in-law said. “He comes by about once a quarter to blow a little sunshine up my a**.” “At that moment,” Horowitz writes, “I knew that I’d been screwing up my company by being too positive.”

Other lessons in the “when things fall apart” section include the right way to lay people off, how to demote a friend, and how to fire an executive. Firing an executive, he writes, begins with the recognition that, with the exception of ethical transgressions, you are firing the executive because you have made a bad choice in the first place. “The reason you have to fire your head of marketing is not because he sucks,” Horowitz explains. “It’s because you suck.” He then lists a series of mistakes made in the hiring process and suggests paying attention to them for the next executive hire.

Many business books have quotes at the beginning of chapters, and this book is no exception. But don’t expect to find Sun Tzu or Winston Churchill; Horowitz draws his inspiration from hip-hop artists who “aspire to be both great and successful and see themselves as entrepreneurs.” And indeed, a quote from Kanye West captures the no-nonsense, grounded wisdom of this insightful read: “This is the real world, homie, school finished…”

Innovation and Investment

If you’re analyzing companies to invest in, certainly one item you’ll want to take into consideration is their strategy for innovation. Next week’s Soundview Live webinars have got you covered on both the investment and innovation fronts.

How to Make Smart Investment Decisions with Laura Rittenhouse

In this Soundview Live webinar Laura Rittenhouse introduces a revolutionary method for evaluating the financial integrity of a company. You don’t need special access to “insider” information or a degree in accounting to figure it out. In fact, the secret is right in front of you—in black and white—in the words of every shareholder letter, annual report, and corporate correspondence you receive. Rittenhouse lays out her time-tested approach for recognizing at-risk businesses before trouble hits. This is the same method she used to predict the collapse of Enron and the fall of Lehman.

Igniting Innovation with F.I.R.E. Methods with Dan Ward

In this Soundview Live webinar noted military technology expert Dan Ward delivers his manifesto for creating great products and projects using the methods of rapid innovation.

During nearly two decades as an engineering officer in the U. S. Air Force, with tours of duty at military research laboratories, the Air Force Institute of Technology, an intelligence agency, the Pentagon and Afghanistan, Dan Ward observed patterns revealing that the most successful project leaders in both the public and private sectors delivered top-shelf products with a skeleton crew, a shoestring budget, and a cannonball schedule. Excessive investment of time, money, or complexity actually reduced innovation. He concluded the secret to innovation is to be fast, inexpensive, simple, and small.

If either, or both, of these webinars pique your interest, then please register and join us for the lively discussion on these two important topics. Remember that Soundview subscribers attend for free and if you’re not currently a subscriber, you can recoup your full subscription fee with just these two events.