By Barbara Grondin Francella
FOLSOM, Pa. -- Wawa Inc. will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the opening of the first Wawa convenience store with an all-day, in-store celebration at its landmark store here Thursday, April 16.
The celebration at Store 1 is the flagship affair in the "Year of Wawaversaries," a yearlong initiative commemorating milestone store anniversaries of 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45 years at more than 45 Wawa stores throughout the chain.
"The anniversary is a time to step back, reflect on our growth and where we are today," President and CEO Howard Stoeckel, a 22-year-veteran of the company, told CSNews Online during a recent sit-down prior to a 25th Wawaversary celebration at a store in Somer's Point, N.J.
"We clearly are living through very unusual, unprecedented times," he said. "Life a year ago was very different than it is today. People are nervous because they haven't lived through times of this nature. I think it's a time for tradition and trust—which is what our 45th anniversary is all about—reflecting on what we do so well and making sure we continue to deliver that unique experience people have grown up with." (For more of this exclusive interview, see the April 20, 2009, issue of CSNews.)
Wawa's success is built on the company's unique bond between store associates and customers, Stoeckel said, as well as the associate's dedication to the brand's values: Value People, Delight Customers, Embrace Change, Do the Right Thing, Do Things Right and Have a Passion for Winning.
When asked what Wawa's special attributes are, Stoeckel quickly responded, "Clearly, our people."
He continued: "A few years ago, when we did customer focus groups, people told us they liked our products and how convenient we were," the CEO told CSNews Online. "But, more often, they noted our people. They said our associates like each other and they get caught up in the fun."
Customers will be treated to free coffee, hoagies and Wawa bakery treats at Wawa Store 1 Thursday, which will be decorated for the occasion and feature associates wearing anniversary apparel and a cake constructed entirely out of Wawa coffee cups. Guests will be serenaded by Wally and the Honkers, Wawa’s all-kazoo band featuring the Wawa mascot, Wally Goose. From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., additional samples of hoagies, Tastykakes, Herr’s Chips and ice cream will be served.
"April 16 is the most important date in Wawa’s history. It’s the date that laid the foundation for the transition of two businesses—textiles and dairy—into a retail chain that now serves more than a million customers a day," Stoeckel said. "All of our Wawaversary celebrations are a way of honoring our rich history in the communities we serve, and recognizing both customers and associates for their loyalty and business."
On Thursday, after brief remarks by Stoeckel, representatives from Ridley Township, Pa., will read from an official proclamation, declaring April 16, "Wawaversary Day." Radio personality Preston Elliot of WMMR will emcee the event. He'll be joined by fellow WMMR personality Casey Foster.
The celebration will be headlined by a hoagie-building competition that pits a team from the Ridley Township Administrative Offices against a team from the Ridley Township Police Department, as they battle it for the title of “heroes” of hoagie building. Elliot will referee as each team is challenged to see who can build 45 hoagies first. The winning team will earn bragging rights and Wawa will donate $2,000 on behalf of the contestants to benefit the Township of Ridley Police and Fire Memorial Foundation.
As part of this celebration, Wawa will recognize milestone customers who have been frequenting Wawa since the first store opened in Folsom. To honor these customers, Wawa executives and longtime store associates will present each with a specially designed golden travel mug, filled with one month’s worth of coupons for free coffee. In addition, each will be awarded a ceremonial key to the store.
Customers being recognized include Bill Thompson, a big fan of the hoagies and coffee, who said he loves Wawa's convenience and the customer service, and "Smitty and Larry," who have come to this Wawa store every day, Monday through Friday, for the past 25 years. The duo said they love the cheerful atmosphere and the fast service, but the associates keep them coming back.
Other customers to be recognized are Vincent Greto, a customer for 20 years who said he values the relationships he has with the Wawa associates. He also enjoys watching how the products have improved over time. Dean Roberts, who has shopped at the store for 30 years, said his favorite memory is his son's face when the milkshake machine arrived in the store. Also earning recognition is William J. Wasson, who worked at the deli in the late 1960s and 1970s slicing meat. His pet bird Tiki is well known at Store 1; they visit the store every single day and have appeared on a poster during the Columbian Coffee Promotion. William said he's treated more like a friend than a customer.
"At Wawa, we pride ourselves on the unique relationships we have with our customers and with the community," said Nicole Dieterle, the store's general manager. "This is especially true here at Store 1, where many of the close bonds that have formed between store associates and our customers extend back more than four decades. Today is a proud moment in Wawa."
As part of its anniversary celebration, Wawa collaborated with the Hagley Museum and Library to form a collection and publish a digital photo exhibit of the first 45 years of the chain's history. A portion of the photo exhibit will be on display for the public to view at the Wawa Store 1 Wawaversary celebration. The 45th anniversary exhibit is all part of a larger collection of images and artifacts from the company’s 200 years of history.
"We are delighted to include the Wawa story of innovation among the historical collections of the Hagley Library," said Terry Snyder, deputy director of the Hagley Library Administration. "For generations to come, scholars will benefit from studying the business practices of the company."
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By Barbara Grondin Francella