Harry Peck – Wawa
The Police Athletic League facility in Southwest Philadelphia showing wear and tear, Peck and his team partnered with Wawa’s operations department and vendors in upgrading the place with fresh paint, new restrooms and energy-efficient lighting. With the local PAL celebrating its 75th anniversary and the company sponsoring its annual Wawa Welcome America—16 festive days before and after the Fourth of July—it was a most harmonic convergence in the City of Brotherly Love.
“Some of the children were emotionally moved when they saw what an improved facility they now had to enjoy,” Peck tells Blueprint in August from Wawa headquarters in the Philly suburb of Media, Pennsylvania. “They need a safe and fun place to mold character and just enjoy being children.”
Yet, as Peck emphasizes, the PAL facility overhaul really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for a chain that prides itself on civic involvement and whose openings often become community events that attract dignitaries. Though it’s not the largest convenience chain—fewer than 1,000 stores and located in just six states and Washington, D.C.—it’s growing.
Wawa anticipates another 50 or so stores by year’s end, with additional states targeted to augment its presence in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and the nation’s capital.
Efficiency starts here
Once the construction department finishes a store, it’s under the control of Peck, who has ascended to director of facility and store services during his 23 years at Wawa. Practicalities prevent him from attending most ribbon-cuttings, but some of his field staffers are there, leading walk-throughs and supporting store operations and grand openings.
Those staffers are a capable bunch, Peck explaining how upon moving into the facilities role, he refined an in-house tech program that had focused on general contract work. He expanded the level and scope of services from a five- to a seven-day coverage schedule and gave each technician fewer stores to oversee in a defined location.
“This not only helps with up-time—it’s a huge benefit in terms of cost and labor efficiency,” Peck says. “This has been crucial to our growth.”
Allowing each technician to focus on fewer stores makes sense given that a Wawa often is between 5,500 and 6,000 square feet in size, or twice as large as other convenience stores. Wawa doesn’t consider just convenience stores to be its primary competition, though. Fast-casual and quick-service restaurants are as well, what with Wawa’s amenities including made-to-order meals and beverages and surcharge-free ATMs. There are fuel pumps at most stores and the company has what Peck says might be the nation’s largest collection of hosted Tesla charging stations.
He’s also furthered Wawa’s environmental credentials through a solar program that’s been ongoing since 2016. Around 100 stores, mostly in New Jersey, now have units producing 12 megawatts.
“That says something about how our corporate values balance good business with green operation,” Peck says. “We continue to be nimble and evolve the business to really meet our customer demand. Our purpose is providing a safe, clean place where you can get quality food, fuel your vehicle and get away from life’s grind.”
And to do it 24/7/365, inclement weather notwithstanding.
Neither rain nor snow
Be it a blizzard in Pennsylvania or a hurricane in Florida, Wawa remains open. According to Peck, the stores might even have been lifesavers when Category 4 Hurricane Irma struck Fort Myers, Florida, in 2017 and Superstorm Sandy had New Jersey on the ropes five years earlier.
“Though six stores in coastal Jersey were damaged, we were able to remain open and provide food, beverages and ice,” he says. “We pride ourselves in being open when most needed.”
And speaking of Florida, there’s where Wawa’s growth has been greatest. Ten years ago, Wawa opened its first store in the Sunshine State. Now, it has more than 200, the most fuel stores in any state. Again, Peck credits the vendor network and tech program that ensures performance a long way from Wawa headquarters.
“We were able to really grow this program, and learn what works and what doesn’t work,” he says. “We took all the positive aspects of the program and are using it as our blueprint as we continue to grow and expand geographically.”
When Peck joined Wawa as a supply chain controller in 1999, the company had 507 stores and a sandwich and beverage business. The intent was to transition from a traditional convenience retailer into a well-rounded operation where staff and customers interact.
“Almost like a ‘Cheers’ setting,” Peck says, drawing comparison with the old TV series about a Boston bar where “everybody knows your name.”
As head of a crew of 35 at the corporate office and another 120 field technicians and even more vendors, Peck may not know everyone’s name but knows of their performance. They proved their worth during COVID-19.
“We had vendors who had nothing to do with production of some of the safety products that we needed, but they found creative ways to manufacture these things for us and really helped in getting our safety measures implemented for our customers and store associates,” he says. “We never closed and the vendors kept their employees actively employed.”
With Wawa being a non-franchise company and operating under an employee stock ownership plan, there’s further incentive for the team at each store to mind details.
As for Peck, he likes how his career has shaped up. A 1988 Penn State University accounting graduate, he spent years crunching numbers at Coopers & Lybrand and two manufacturing companies, Lukens Inc. and Philadelphia Gear. At the latter company, he was a materials manager from 1997 to 1999 and then joined Wawa where his accounting skills initially were used in measuring business performance.
While his accounting background will always be an asset, Peck’s long since expanded his attention to other details that affect the bottom line. He enjoys helping colleagues inside and outside his group advance in their careers, just as he’s moved beyond poring over spreadsheets.
“I’m a CPA who hasn’t practiced finance in a long time,” Peck says. “You don’t get locked into disciplines at Wawa. It’s one thing that keeps it interesting and the culture strong.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VI 2022 Edition here.
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