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May 13, 2014

You either know what a Wawa is or you don’t. So if you’re watching today’s show, I’m guessing you’re a member of the cult of convenience store personality. Founded in the small town of Wawa, Pennsylvania, 50 years ago this month, a Wawa store is so much more than an oddly named neighborhood market.

HOWARD STOECKEL podcast excerpt: "If you don't make mistakes, you're not trying hard enough. Once we make a mistake at Wawa, we're not intimated. We'll go back, say, 'What went wrong, what can we learn, is it something we want to revisit?' Some of our greatest successes have been out of failures we revisited. That keeps the organization young."

It’s a place where friends and neighbors meet, greet and serve friends and neighbors. It’s a place where you can always count on a friendly face and a delicious meal, a great price on fuel and a chuckle every time you see that silly name. Wawa.

More than a year ago, I was hired by Wawa to help its then CEO (now vice chairman) Howard Stoeckel write a cultural history of the company he spent the last quarter-century of his career with, at a place where he was known as the Brand Ranger, among other well-earned nicknames.

HOWARD STOECKEL podcast excerpt: "We had a group of people who thought we should re-brand the Wawa coffee cup. They came up with this whole new design, very different than what we had. The cup at the time was beige, warm and fuzzy, soft. People thought we should go in a different direction... a black coffee cup. No one else had a black cup in the marketplace. We rolled it out and after five weeks, we got some complaints. People said, 'There is an odor.' It was not an appetizing odor. And there is a morning sports show on 94 WIP-FM in Philadelphia, hosted by Angelo Cataldi, very high-rated. Angelo is a Wawa fan, shops our stores every morning. And he would go to the radio station with this big cup of coffee. The people who appear with him on the show said one day, 'Angelo, something smells! Like body odor!' Angelo thought they were pointing the finger at him. He swore it wasn't him. He concluded that it was the coffee cup. The fact was, the ink on the exterior of the cup, when it got extremely hot, created this odor! We got rid of the cups, went on his show to apologize and thank him for what he did to help us correct the problem."

In co-authoring The Wawa Way: How a Funny Name and 6 Core Values Revolutionized Convenience, I had the great pleasure of working with Howard and learning why he is such a beloved and revered character in the stores and halls of Wawa. And he is easily the humblest executive with whom I have ever worked. (By the way, Wawa’s profits from The Wawa Way will go to the new Wawa Foundation.)

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