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Dick Wood, a member of the family who founded Wawa Inc., was inducted into Convenience Store News' Convenience Store Industry Hall of Fame in 1996.
After graduating from law school in 1964, Wood clerked for a federal judge and later worked for a large law firm, dealing with the Securities Exchange Commission and working on mergers and acquisitions. At age 32, in June 1970, he was approached by Grahame Wood, Wawa's founder and Dick Wood's father's second cousin, to work for the c-store operator.
"His son and nephew already worked for the company," Wood recalled, "and I said I'd come if he told them he asked me to work for him. I wanted it to be clear I wasn't looking for a job."
Wood did Wawa's legal work for seven years, eventually taking on CFO, IT and other responsibilities. He became president in 1977. Since then, Wawa's stock value has seen a compounded annual growth rate of 17.6 percent per year.
Share with us one of your early c-store memories.
In 1974, the NACS convention was in Hawaii. It was the first one I went to, and I was put on the board! They expanded the board, adding five or six people: myself, Kerley LaBoeuf, Pete Van Horn, George Miller and others. I went to the board meeting and there was a blow up over John Roscoe, who had been in line to be president of NACS. The nominating committee voted four to one not to let him serve. Their objection was he was controversial, because he said negative things about vendors. The next person in line was Bill Brown, a friend of John Roscoe's, who decided if NACS wasn't letting Roscoe serve, he wasn't going to serve either. I went to my first board meeting and there was all this controversy.
So, George Frazier, president of Fast Fare, the third in line, ended up being president. The next year, Bill Brown served as president.
With a background in law, why did you make a permanent career switch into retailing?
First, I felt an obligation to my family. Today, 50 percent of the company is owned by a trust that my great grandfather set up in 1922. There are 150 family members who are beneficiaries of the trust. Another 10 percent is owned outright by descendants of my great grandfather. An ESOP of 8,000-plus people owns another 29 percent. The rest is owned by management who had gotten stock options, retired management or their children.
It's a wonderful ownership structure to grow a business on. The family members and associates take a great deal of pride of being a part of Wawa and it helps drive the culture of the company.
We are intensely focused on staying private. Public companies are only worried about the next quarter. We are paying attention to operations and making long-term decisions.
What are some remarkable things you've seen in the industry?
Around 1980, we went through a strategic planning session and changed the whole makeup of the National Association of Convenience Stores. Soon after, we brought in Kerley LaBoeuf and formed The Hunter Club, named after Harry Hunter, NACS' original executive director, who served more than 20 years. Before that, we were constantly soliciting vendors to pay for all of our events. People paid a fee to join the Hunter Club and then NACS used that money to pay for events.
We also started driving government relations and moved to having a trade show every year, which was a big financial boon to NACS as an organization. When Kerley became president of NACS, NACS had a net worth of $19,000. Now, I’m sure it is in the millions.
Can you share a funny memory with us?
When Pete Van Horn was finishing up his year as chairman in 1982-83, he did a roast of all the past chairmen. It was hilarious. He called Sam Jacobsen "General Patton."
How has the industry most changed over the years?
In the early 1980s, 7-Eleven was already a huge sponsor of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and asked NACS to become the sponsor of the telethon. I was given the job of coming up with a way for NACS to raise money for the telethon. I set up a system whereby chains would compete in raising funds based on a per-store basis. Jerry Lewis would pay a visit to the headquarters of whichever chain raised the most money per store. We were really successful raising money that year. Then after a couple years it broke up, because Jerry Lewis liked 7-Eleven and didn't want to be talking with the rest of the industry.
But the industry learned how to become close to the local communities and raise money for charitable causes. The industry grew a heart.
What has had the biggest impact on the industry in the last 40 years?
Gasoline. The late '60s was the first time states permitted self-service gasoline. But it became evident in the '70s that if we got into the gasoline business, the majors would get into the c-store business. Until then, gas stations made money on tires, batteries, accessories and repairs. Cars started not needing repairs as often or you took it to your dealer for repairs. They were driven into the c-store business.
On the other side, the c-store industry did a poor job of getting into gasoline, because it wasn't until Dick Jensen at SuperAmerica figured out how to be a high-volume retailer, and then Chester Cadieux (founder of QuikTrip Corp.) copied that and we copied Chester, did gasoline really take off.
We opened our first major, high-volume presentation gas station in 1996 and it reinvented our company. Until then, we did gasoline in a pathetic way and temporarily got out of the gas business in 1982.
What has disappeared from the industry you'd like to see return?
Back in the late '70s or early '80s, when the group of us were moving through the chairs of NACS -- Bob Maich, Ray Hawkins, Alan Marsh -- we had a lot of fun. I wouldn’t mind bringing that back -- but we've probably matured since then!
What did you like the most about the c-store industry?
I really enjoy all of the different elements of selling gasoline. On the retail side, I tell people, if you are driving down the street and your gas tank moves toward 'empty,' you don’t say, "Whooopee! I'm going on a shopping spree!" Gasoline is not a fun experience. What you try to do is have a great presentation out front, where customers can pull in relatively easy. Squeegee should be full. Credit card should be authorized in a couple seconds. The pumps should be clean and the trash not overflowing. If you have all that, a strong price becomes a supplement.
On the procurement side, you get into so many analytical things -- trading, hedging, buying it in the Gulf Coast, in tankers, etc. We have access to a terminal in the Port of Wilmington. There are an awful lot of intricacies into being a great gasoline retailer. Wawa sold 1.3 billion gallons of gasoline last year.
Anything you regret selling?
I think the industry has never been on the side of the angels. Wawa doesn’t sell adult magazines or cigarette papers, but the industry does. Much of the industry pays minimum wage -- and cigarettes are a best seller. So take these things together and not a lot of people regard c-stores as doing a lot of great things. Which is why being involved in the community really improves the image.
What do you think of the industry's image now?
In many cases, in terms of standards and the look of the stores, the industry hasn't been well run. But the industry has gotten much better over the years. Still, it could be improved some more. I think Sheetz is the most innovative, and Wawa's and QuikTrip's standards are probably the highest. What I admire about QuikTrip is when you walk into the store, someone says "Hello" to you. Always. I admire Chester Cadiuex the most of anyone in the industry.