The Story of Wawa, Inc: A Business That Began in 1803

Located in the East Coast of the United States, Wawa Inc. is one of the most popular store chains in the country. It has its headquarters in Chester Heights, Pennsylvania, as well as branches in Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey. Despite its popularity, not many people are familiar with the history and progression of the company to the success it is today. This is the story of Wawa, Inc: a business that began in 1803.

Where It All Started

The Wawa business can be traced back to 1803, when a businessman from New Jersey called George Wood moved to Delaware County, Pennsylvania with a vision of making a name for himself in the iron foundry industry. It was here that Wood started the Wawa Dairy Farm, after importing cows from Guernsey island in Britain to a 1,000-acre land in the Chester Heights area. Although the business was proving to have a successful beginning, there was one problem. Due to lack of pasteurization, consuming raw milk posed serious health issues for many children. To counter this problem, Wood had doctors certify that his milk was safe for consumption in order for consumers to purchase the product. This turned out to be a brilliant strategy. Not only did it allow the Wawa dairy to grow, but it also led to increased demand for dairy products in the 1920s. Naturally, Wawa expanded its customer base and started supplying milk to buyers’ homes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

During the 1960s, however, there was a drastic change in the market trend that threatened to put George’s company out of business. Consumers stopped using home delivery, opting to buy milk from stores instead. Once again, Wawa had to adjust itself to align with the current market changes by opening its own stores. The first Wawa Food Market was opened on April 16, 1964, in Folsom, Pennsylvania and remained in operation until June last year when it was replaced by a modern “Super Wawa” across the street. In addition to selling milk, the Wawa Food Market stores also served as convenience stores – which were very trendy at the time. They packed different types of foods and beverages, as well as other products from the Wawa dairy.

Diversifying

By 1989, Wawa Inc. and the Wood family owned about 725 acres of land, which included the J.T. Farms, the Wawa dairy farm, and the corporate headquarters. The land under the company’s name is distributed as follows:

  • J.T. Farms – 225 acres
  • The Wawa dairy – 150 acres
  • Corporate headquarters – 50 acres

The remaining 300 acres, which are registered under the Wood family, are in the form of estate property. Until January 2013, Howard Stoeckel was the CEO of Wawa before stepping down for Chris Gheysens. Wawa is mostly a family-run business, but its employees also hold a decent percentage of the company’s stock. According to Forbes, Wawa is also among the top 40 largest private companies with at least $10 billion worth of revenue. It employs over 22,000 people in more than 720 stores, with at least 450 offering gasoline.

Partnerships and Competition

Wawa serves most of the areas in Pennsylvania not catered for by fast growing rival stores such as Turkey Hill and Sheetz. Wawa was one of the first convenience stores to install self service computer touch-screen menus in a bid to enhance order accuracy for food orders. In 1985, Wawa partnered with PNC Bank to facilitate surcharge free ATM transactions for its customers in 6 states. The partnership has seen a jaw dropping 3-fold growth in traffic at a typical Wawa store. Every month, about seven million transactions totaling to approximately $600 million are conducted via PNC ATMs in Wawa stores. In addition, the company has availed promotional offers for meal items and discounted merchandise via an ATM couponing program, which are distributed during the day.

During the late ’80s and the better part of the 1990s, Wawa Inc. promoted a scholarship sponsorship program involving Irish students, which allowed them to complete their tertiary education at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. In 2005, Wawa also entered into a partnership with JPMorgan Chase to provide a Visa credit card inscribed with the Wawa brand name. The program was dissolved in November 2010, but Wawa went into a new agreement with Citibank to offer their own credit card. In a bid to connect with its customers, Wawa eventually embraced social media in 2006 by creating a MySpace page with over 5,000 members. By 2013, its Facebook page boasted at least 1 million “likes”.

Why People Love Wawa

1. The hoagies

The most popular menu item at Wawa’s is the hoagie sandwiches, which go for as low as $5. They source their dough from Amaroso’s Baking Company in Philadelphia and then bake the sandwiches fresh in the store. Apart from the regular pieces, there are at least 32 original combinations you can choose from, including the Oven Roasted Turkey, the Pepperoni Pizza, and the Buffalo Breaded Chicken.

2. The hot and freshly prepared food

The typical convenience stores are not usually associated with fresh, healthy food. This is where Wawa distinguishes itself. The store offers a wide variety of freshly prepared menu items, including salads, soups, quesadillas, and tasty snacks such as buffalo chicken bites and hot stuffed pretzels.

3. The surcharge-free ATMs

Customers can withdraw cash at any ATM within a Wawa store free of charge.

4. The Touch-Screen menus for customizing food orders

Customers can make their orders fast and conveniently, with minimal room for error. Wawa was actually a pioneer in this progressive trend.

5. Great Customer Service

According to most loyal Wawa customers, employee friendliness is one of the major reasons they keep coming back to the convenience store. What’s more, everything at the space is designed for speed, which in turn leads to customer contentment and, of course, profit.

6. Unique Items

Some of the items sold at Wawa cannot be acquired anywhere else. Wawa operates its own dairy farm where it sources its milk and ice cream. Additionally, Wawa has its own branded tea, coffee, orange juice, soda, and more.

7. The Branded Breakfast

Wawa sells its own company branded breakfast sandwich, which is available in several different forms on a french toast, biscuit, croissant, or bagel.

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