A dash of chi goes a long way

I haven’t traveled by car much in Pennsylvania and the Northeast, so although I know what Sheetz and Wawa are, the loyalty even fanaticism they inspire are new to me.

Wawa’s customers have been known to tattoo its name on their biceps. Its Facebook page has passed one million “likes.” The tie-dyed Hoagiefest T-shirt that the chain sells each summer is a collectors’ item.

Nobody down here gets this excited by Circle K or Quick Stop.

The New York Times ran a feature on them Saturday, by the suspiciously named Trip Gabriel, that provided clues to this strange phenomenon, and it turns out to be our old friend chi:

They operate convenience stores that update the old formula known as “Coke and smokes” by offering self-serve soda fountains and cappuccino bars, friendly service and, especially, fresh sandwiches ordered on a touch screen.

You see, most people who own convenience stores seem obsessed with cost cutting as the key to success, giving their places a dreary Third World atmosphere. You expect gasoline and junk food and you get gasoline and junk food. Sun Tzu, though, advised generals to engage with the cheng and win with the chi. In other words, do the expected well but then also (they don’t trade-off) throw in something delightful:

Wawa is my local bank. The best marketing tool in the world is that you don’t pay a fee for the ATM. Obviously, many people will spend something in the store at the same time. Still, it is a marvelous perk.

The trick is that it has to be something customers find delightful, and, because people quickly become jaded, it’s a dynamic process.


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