Wawa VP talks people, hospitality

CRESSON — At Wawa, the customer comes second to employees.

Above all else, Wawa values its own people, but with good reason, said Harry J. McHugh, senior vice president of operations at Wawa Inc.

In turn, employees strive to fulfill one of the company’s core values of always delighting the customer, McHugh said.

“This is our real reason for success,” McHugh said.

McHugh spoke about Wawa’s commitment to hospitality and constant innovation as part of Mount Aloysius College’s 2012-13 speaker series.

Stan Sheetz, president and CEO of Sheetz Inc., introduced McHugh to the crowd gathered in Alumni Hall.

Despite today’s constant battle for dominance in a Pennsylvania market divided by strict territorial lines, the two titans of the convenience store industry weren’t always rivals, Sheetz said.

In the 1980s, both men served as head of operations for their respective companies. They frequently traveled together on market research trips, and the two convenience store leaders shared information freely, Sheetz said.

“He never stops, he never slows down,” Sheetz said of McHugh.

McHugh joined Wawa in 1973 and has filled diverse roles from director of strategic planning and real estate to vice president of store operations.

“He was extremely accomplished at every single one of those ventures,” Sheetz said.

McHugh thanked Sheetz for the praise, but said the company owed its success to its people and constant innovation.

Adaptation to a changing market and adhering to the company’s key values was key to keeping the company going, McHugh said.

“We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” McHugh said.

What started as a iron works and later a textile factory is now the longest-running privately held company in the world, McHugh said.

Wawa constantly innovated, he said. In the 1960s, Wawa dairy farms transitioned into mini-supermarkets. The company began to build, not just make hoagies, McHugh said. And in 1996 Wawa jumped back into gasoline sales, which now exceed about 1.5 billion gallons annually.

From restrooms to gasoline sales and food service, Wawa strives to ensure a customer-focused quality permeates through the entire company, McHugh said.

The convenience store chain leader was a perfect fit for the Hospitality: Finding Home in a Changing World lecture series, said Thomas P. Foley, Mount Aloysius president.

Sheetz embraced McHugh following his introduction. At times, the company has followed the Altoona-based chain’s lead and even lags behind in gasoline sales, McHugh said.

But some of the friendly rivalry familiar to convenience store patrons on each side of the state was exchanged between the two friends.

Sheetz recalled the countless hours the two men spent discussing how to sell more Snickers bars.

And McHugh joked about Wawa’s style — a bit more “elegance” in store design when compared to Sheetz, he said.

Above all else, both men said their companies strive to cater to the customer and have achieved success through innovation and genuinely caring for their own people.

“We cater to everybody,” McHugh said. “That’s what the customer wants.”

Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.