How This Company Used High-Tech Lava Maps to Recreate the Finest French Wine in Oregon

мая 26, 2019 by  
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Former film producer Mark Tarlov thought he’d get into wine when he left the movie business. What he’s doing with that business is more ambitious than anything else he’s produced.

For People Battling Depression, These May Be the Treatments of the Future

мая 26, 2019 by  
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Founders index high for mental illness, but no one needed to tell that to Ronn Dunnett, who makes pricey handmade snare drums for musicians like Neil Peart of Rush. He battled severe depression for years. He tried therapy and multiple medications, to no avail. Then, last year, Dunnett learned about a promising new treatment—ketamine.

Yes, ketamine—which, although an FDA-approved anesthetic, is better known for sending club kids into non­responsive and severely dissociative k-holes. But in recent years, it has earned a reputation as an effective off-label treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts. Findings from numerous studies bolster that rep—and hundreds of entrepreneurial docs have opened clinics. Like Steven L. Mandel, who founded Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles in 2014, and who treated Dunnett. (Off-label use is legal, but insurance companies don’t cover it.) «Ketamine was my hail mary,» says Dunnett. «I can finally feel pleasure.» Before treatment, he’d gone as far as to plan his suicide—in the garage, with his motorcycle. «This isn’t hyperbole—this gives some people their lives back,» says Mandel, who adds that about half of his patients are entrepreneurs.

There are a handful of other novel—and increasingly available—treatment options these days. One of Inc.’s Best Industries of 2019 is the burgeoning world of digital therapeutics, for instance. Video games and other software applications can now be used to treat a variety of medical conditions, rather than simply entertain. Some even require a prescription from a physician. As noted in the report, the U.S. digital therapeutics market was valued at $889 million in 2017 and is expected to reach $4.42 billion by 2023, according to business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

Further, the world of telemedicine and teletherapy is attracting physicians and startups alike. DotCom Therapy, a telehealth company that booked more than $2 million in revenue in 2017, provides speech therapy, occupational therapy, and mental health services. The founders are currently expanding to new markets around the world. That company was highlighted in 2018 as a part of the growing raft of firms within the self-improvement industry, which collectively generated $9.9 billion in 2017 revenue, according to Marketdata research.

Even though help would seem to abound, do stop and take care of yourselves during the long, gray days of winter. Should you need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255.​

4 New Business Buzzwords You Should Know (But Should Never, Ever Use)

мая 26, 2019 by  
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Business buzzwords are almost never useful—but these trendy words and phrases are truly unfortunate.

Instagramification / • noun

«Making sure millennials and Gen Zers have a reason to come into … stores—with state-of-the-art interior design as a backdrop to artsy Instagram posts.» Persuading them to buy is step two.
Source: Axios

Shuangju / • noun

China’s binge watching of Story of Yanxi Palace, which netted more than 15 billion views in less than three months. The term derives from shuangwen, which means «binge read,» and is therefore practically obsolete.
Source: China Film Insider

Orthosomnia / • noun

«Self-diagnosed sleep disturbances» suffered by sleep-tracker-data obsessives. Wait until heath insurers make you wear a Fitbit to bed.
Source: Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine

Invisible marketing / • noun

«Marketing, without it being perceived as marketing,» such as «a blog written with the goal of getting the reader to take action and/or purchase a product.» In other words: marketing.
Source: Total Prestige Magazine

Is It Just a Slump, or Should You Call It Quits? Here’s How to Tell

мая 26, 2019 by  
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Alexis Tryon co-founded Artsicle in NYC in 2010 to sell original art online to the masses—people wanting to decorate their homes without dropping millions of dollars at auctions. The company’s early days were promising, with glowing reviews and artists signing up to sell their work on the platform every week. Venture money soon followed.

But then business plateaued. A hundred customers signed up the first year … and the second year … and the third year. «A hundred needed to be a thousand and then 10,000. But it never happened,» Tryon recalls. So Artsicle pivoted, trying to reach a bigger market of companies looking to decorate their offices. But the slow and painstaking strategy involved more cold calling than website curation. Another new product, an online platform for artists to display their portfolios, was popular—but not lucrative. Investors started getting impatient. «They wanted us to grow big or go home,» Tryon says.

Finally, in 2015, Artsicle shut down. Tryon’s only regret? «We should have done it sooner,» she says. «But we weren’t emotionally ready.»

It’s a problem all too many business owners face. The hard fact is that many startups, even if they do moderately well, will not ramp up as much as their founders hope. According to the Small Business Administration, only about half of all companies survive as long as Artsicle’s five years. But it’s hard to know when enough is enough. «Entrepreneurs are inherently optimistic—otherwise they would not have taken the risk to go into business,» says Jane W. Muir, a Miami attorney who specializes in business operations and contracts.

So, how do you tell the difference between a rough patch you should gut through and a terminal business condition? If you have money on hand and are motivated, you probably don’t need to give up. Otherwise, if you’re running up debt on your personal credit cards with no end in sight, start reading the signs. «When your accountant tells you point-blank that if the business doesn’t turn a profit by the end of the year it will need to be closed, it will need to be closed,» says Dee Bowden, who shut down Bowden Revenue Collection Services, a Frederick, Maryland-based collection agency, in 2008. (She now runs a new one, BCS Solutions.)

If you’re wondering if your business is up for another year, or if you’d rather cut your losses and start working on your next project, ask yourself these questions:

Can you sell it?

Muir recommends thinking through all the options before you fold. «Is there an exit strategy that can pull you out of your insolvency? Would a major company acquire your company for the talent you possess? Can you raise investment capital by selling equity?» she asks. In the case of Artsicle, Tryon tried to sell it—but after speaking with almost two dozen potential buyers, no one committed to a deal.

Does your co-founder share your outlook?

Partners might have more—or less—patience for your company’s viability. At Papaya + Post, a toy subscription service, co-founder Avni Patel Thompson saw strong initial customer interest, but repeat customers were harder to come by. «It didn’t take long to see the writing on the wall,» Thompson says, though her co-founder disagreed: «For her, it was just that we were still early, and this is a building period.» The partners talked it over … and over and over again, until they finally agreed to set a deadline for an upswing in Papaya + Post sales. Things didn’t improve, and so they closed up shop.

Can you try again?

Thompson also realized she wanted to focus on building «a life-changing and market-changing venture,» and is now taking a new run at that goal with her current startup, Poppy, a child care service. Meanwhile, by the time Artsicle shut down, Tryon had hired staff with the skill to pivot to website development—which wasn’t really what the company had set out to do or what would make a lot of money. Still, Tryon, who’s currently consulting, hasn’t given up on the dream of running her next big thing: «I now introduce myself as a former and future founder,» she says.

I Tested Working in a Mixed-Reality Office. It’s Closer Than You Think

мая 26, 2019 by  
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Last week, I rearranged my desk. I tiled virtual screens around my existing monitors, placed a virtual vase and flowers beneath a (real) lamp, and stationed a tiny pet dinosaur by my mouse­pad to keep me company.

The dinosaur, I soon realized, was a mistake. I waved her away, again and again, but she kept walking back to my keyboard to look up at me, adorably, hoping I’d stop working to play with her.

On my physical monitors were Slack, email, and various documents. On the virtual monitors, on a mixed-reality wall that responded to my gestures, were The New York Times, several Google searches, and a shared office calendar. My team works remotely, but I could invite them to meet with me—virtually—in my office. It was possible to see outlines of their bodies sitting and standing near a whiteboard, even though one staffer was in Austin and the other was in San Francisco.

This isn’t sci-fi. It’s spatial computing, which will enable machines to be responsive to us in real time thanks to a combination of various technologies: sensors, 3-D capture, rendering, algorithms, and wearable displays. This means computers won’t be tethered to a single location, like your desk or closet, but will instead engulf offices, boardrooms, factory floors, and kitchens. Spatial computing means any room can become a computable environment—with you as part of the system.

You’ll enter this new world using a pair of mixed-reality glasses, which will track your movements and relay information while allowing you to see the real world. Unlike augmented-reality headsets, which overlay digital information in response to your location, or virtual-reality headsets, which completely block the outside world, mixed-reality glasses will blend you and your surroundings with data, algorithms, and graphics.

Sony’s R&D division in Tokyo has been researching mixed reality for years. Its Parallel Eyes project allows four people to share what they see with one another—and for onlookers to watch as well. Imagine watching the Rolling Stones from the stage, and being able see through the eyes of Mick, Keith, Charlie, and Ron as they perform. More practically, this would allow construction teams, law enforcement officers, and coaches to collaborate on projects, fieldwork, and practices more viscerally than ever before.

Last August, the Florida-based startup Magic Leap launched its mixed-reality headset, Magic Leap One, and the hybrid physical-virtual world its users inhabit when they enter that spatial computing system. (It’s the hardware and software I used to rearrange my desk.) Magic Leap has its detractors; I’ve read all of its patents and spent ample time experimenting with that headset and spatial computing platform, and agree it isn’t ready for the holiday season—like every groundbreaking technology, Magic Leap needs time to mature. But even at this early stage, the underlying technology powering it is breath­taking. Wearing its glasses, I was able to set up my office and desk in less than two minutes. Once I did, my tiny dinosaur pet could freely roam the room while responding to the physical world: She couldn’t walk through walls or furniture.

Soon, I should be able to interact with Mica—Magic Leap’s startlingly realistic mixed-reality version of Siri and Alexa. She’s still a prototype, but already her facial movements respond to mine. In the near future, Mica could keep me company when I’m dining alone, or take a walk with me around my office.

It will take time to develop this technology and move it from the fringes to the mainstream, but our lives will change profoundly once every room we’re in is also a computing environment. Blueprints and 3-D designs will transform into spaces we can see, walk through, and inspect before any nail is hammered. Gyms will offer personal-training A.I. that we’ll see and interact with, as it coaches us using our data. And allergy sufferers, like me, will finally be able to own a pet. Just be forewarned: Your too-cute dinosaur won’t leave you alone for a second.

What Everyone Needs to Understand About Millennial Bosses

мая 26, 2019 by  
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The oldest Millennials are now well into their 30s, and they’re increasingly running companies. Inc. and our sister publication, Fast Company, partnered with career-development site the Muse to survey 155 Millennial bosses to see how they manage, what they value, and how they plan to shape the future of business. The top priorities they cited are humanist: creating positive work cultures, forging strong relationships (in person, not through apps), and caring for the whole person, not just the worker. And, unlike some Boomers and Gen-Xers, they’re optimistic about those who will replace them. As Elena Valentine, co-founder and CEO of video company Skill Scout, predicts, «I have a hunch Gen Z is going to make an even bigger impact.»

Truly Proud of Where You Work? Apply for the 2019 Inc. Best Workplaces List Today

мая 26, 2019 by  
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Think your workplace is the best? Inc. wants to hear about it.

In partnership with Quantum Workplace, a leading software platform for employee engagement and performance, Inc. is on the lookout for remarkable companies to feature in the fourth annual Best Workplaces issue.

While company-sponsored trips to Jamaica are certainly enticing, great perks aren’t the sole—or most important—criteria. Is the culture egalitarian and supportive? Do you feel like your ideas matter and that there’s a clear path for career advancement? We want to hear about those less-tangible benefits too.

Upon nominating your company, you’ll need to survey all employees using Quantum’s methodology, which includes topics such as trust in senior leadership, career development, change management, and benefits and perks. Quantum also takes into account financial elements of corporate culture.

In May, winners will be notified via email and in June,Inc.will publish the list of the best places to work online and in print. If your company made the cut, you’ll be able to see how it lines up in comparison to similarly-sized businesses in your industry. How’s that for competitive intelligence?

To access the early rate of $195, applications are due by January 10. The rate goes up to $245 for applications received after that date and until February 7. The charge for applications received after February 7 is $345. The deadline to apply is February 14.

Charity: Water’s Scott Harrison on Why the Nonprofit Is a Best Workplace

мая 26, 2019 by  
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During a two-year-long service trip to West Africa, Scott Harrison noticed something that left an indelible mark on him: Women (and, yes, the job mostly landed on women) would have to walk several miles each day to get water, which may not even be clean, for their families. Upon his return to the U.S., Harrison vowed to do something to help. In 2006, he founded charity: water, a nonprofit that helps build wells, from which villagers can better access potable water. The organization invested $35 million in water projects in 2017, and has helped provide greater access to clean water to 8.2 million people in 24 countries around the world. As it turns out, doing good is also attractive to employees. The New York City-based organization has been named one of Inc.’s 2018 Best Workplaces. Here, Harrison describes why it made the list.

—As told to Brit Morse

Recently we posted a job for a receptionist and nearly 1,000 people applied. We posted a job for a graphic designer and over 500 people applied. It’s a time in the world when people want their work to matter. People come to charity: water not because they want to get rich, and not because they want to climb any sort of social ladder. They come here because they care about humans and human beings suffering around the world. Charity: water now gives 3,500 people clean water every single day of the year, so by the end of the year we’ll have helped 1.3 million people.

A lot of people leave tech companies and often take half of their salary to opt into a nonprofit. They’ll walk away from stock options because they really want their work to matter. They know that everything they do here—in any department—directly impacts the lives of women and children around the world, many of who are walking eight hours a day for bad water. Or they’re watching their children die of water-borne diseases or going blind because of trachoma, a contagious bacterial infection.

charity: water’s office Thanksgiving. CREDIT: Courtesy Company

We’ve formed great friendships, and people are kind to each other here. We have these things called «isms» that are unique to charity: water. One of them is that there’s no swearing in the company. It sounds so weird if you’re coming from a tech company, but everyone has to opt in to that. So if swearing is really important to you, then you don’t take a job here. It feels safe. You’re not hearing f-bombs being dropped, you’re not hearing caustic language being used in conversations about someone else, or at all.

There’s also a «no white lies» policy. We highly value the truth, so you’ll never hear a receptionist saying that somebody is out who isn’t. They’d be terminated immediately. If you lie in the small things, then you lie in the big things.

We also do hack-a-thons. Everyone quits what they’re doing for two full days and works on creative projects that are often unrelated to the business. People in finance will work with people in creative. People in our water programs will work with engineers. We do a bagel breakfast every Monday. We do Friday beer and pizza. We commemorate birthdays and anniversaries; we offer updates on the organization, discussing whatever we need to talk about to bring the team together.

I think building a good workplace begins with visiting a bunch of really great ones. When I started, I visited the Airbnbs of the world, and the Squares, and the Ubers and talked to whoever designed the office and asked that person what’s working, what’s not, what the best features are. You get really good ideas. None of this is incredibly original; we just borrowed from things we liked.

Chobani Founder Hamdi Ulukaya Says Hiring Refugees Isn’t a Political Act

мая 26, 2019 by  
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The son of nomadic sheep farmers from the Turkish mountains, Hamdi Ulukaya was an improbable candidate to upend the ruthlessly competitive global dairy industry. After arriving in the U.S. in 1994 to study business and English, he settled in Upstate New York—and in 2005 saw a classified ad for an abandoned yogurt-making facility. Two years later, he launched Chobani, which today is an estimated $1.5 billion company and the top-selling brand of Greek yogurt in the country. The company, which also operates the world’s largest yogurt facility, in Twin Falls, Idaho, pays workers, on average, twice the federal minimum wage and gives a portion of its profits to charitable causes. —As told to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

When Kraft’s plant shut down in South Edmeston, in Upstate New York, in 2005, it was the latest of many closings. The feeling of its former employees there was «These large companies gave up on us.» It was like being in a cemetery. Here I show up with a little knowledge, and an accent that was a lot worse than what it is now. I try to tell the former employees: We can start something! I couldn’t promise security, or that the factory would really come back. It was me and five factory workers, and the odds were highly against us.

In two years, we were making yogurt. I wasn’t as confident as I am now, and I would get shaken up talking to 40 employees. In our third year—2010—I decided to hire another CEO, because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do this. One executive had run some big companies and had a nice suit and a spiffy ride, and he really wanted the job. We met in a diner, and the way he interacted with the waitress was so rude. This is what I grew up hating: people who think they’re better than everybody else. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t looking for a CEO.

Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya (right) and staff. CREDIT: Courtesy Chobani

For hiring, supplies, and even contractors, my number one law from the beginning was that we do not go out­side of this community [the Chenango and Otsego counties region]. But as the company grew, the circle of our «community» broadened to the Utica area for hiring. Refugees have been settling in Utica for decades. Some are from Africa, some are from Asia, some from Eastern Europe. They want to work, and they have the right to work. There are obstacles: language, training, and transportation. We figured it out.

Then one morning in 2014, I saw a photograph on the front page of The New York Times. It was a flow of people from the Yazidi community going toward the Sinjar Mountains in Iraq. One woman had one child on her back and another child holding her hand, and that child had some of the house remainings, which she clung to. The image of that woman was very familiar—I grew up in Turkey. But her eyes had an empty look. The look of walking toward the end, questioning: «Is there anyone that’s going to help? Are we all alone in this?»

That morning, I started reaching out to a few people, including the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee. This is one of the most critical human crises that we’ve faced since World War II. It needs to be solved. There was also an extremely poisoned political environment that hit at the most vulnerable people in the world, the 22 million refugees. The more I dug in, the more I realized that one of the most essential things was to bring the business community into this issue—and go above politics.

My next startup was the Tent Foundation. We created this environment that is outside of the political landscape to meet humanitarian needs. I found alliances with companies, like Mastercard, Airbnb, and Johnson & Johnson, and then that grew. Today, we have some 80 companies that are publicly announcing their efforts to help solve the issue of refugees.

From the beginning, my goal at Chobani was not to build just a product—but to build a culture. To build tomorrow’s company. I had the idea back in 2008 to share the company, 10 percent of its value, with the employees. I come from a background of farming, and I’ve always been angry about how ordinary working people are not recognized for their contribu­tions. But we built this together! In front of my own eyes, I saw people sacrifice their holidays, sacrifice their family time, sacrifice sleep. I saw heroes. Taking all of that credit would not be fair.

«This was not about politics. The minute that they got the job, that’s the minutes they stopped being refugees.» –Hamdi Ulukaya. CREDIT: Benedict Evans

I had 2,000 employees in 2016 when I announced that we were going to give them shares in the company. It was a beautiful day. And the company is different because of it. The staff was always proud, but this ownership piece was missing. This is probably one of the smartest, most tactical things you can do for a company. You’re faster, you’re more passionate. Your people are happier.

After my first son was born, I just couldn’t believe that a lot of people go back to work the day after they have had a child. It’s inhumane. Ninety percent of manufacturers in the U.S. do not have parental leave. It’s shameful. If I’m a first-time dad or the mother and I go back the next day, my heart is not there. It’s better for that person to stay home and have that magical moment with the baby and cherish that role. Starting in 2017, Chobani began a six-week parental leave [for parents of all persuasions, including adoptive parents]. I said jokingly, «Let’s go make some babies.» I had just had my second son.

If you want to build a company that truly welcomes people—including refugees—one thing you have to do is throw out this notion of «cheap labor.» That’s really awful. They’re not a different group of people, they’re not Africans or Asians or Nepalis. They’re each just another team member. Let people be themselves, and if you have a cultural environment that welcomes everyone for who they are, it just works.

At Chobani today, 30 percent of our employees are immigrants or refugees. More than 20 languages are spoken at our plants. This was not about politics; this wasn’t my refugee work. This was about hiring from our community. Refugees are dying to provide for their community. I always said that the minute they got the job, that’s the minute they stopped being refugees. It’s been proved to me that this was a plus to the culture.

I never thought I would lead a company of more than 2,000—or that one day I would be called a leader. I grew up with shepherds. I watched my mom and my dad be leaders in their community. Among sheep farms up in the mountains, what is respected most is people’s values. You provide, you protect. The number one thing for me is I’m always there, shoulder to shoulder, on the frontline, on the factory floor, or on the road. We are together.

How Wawa Became the Beloved $10 Billion King of Convenience Stores

мая 26, 2019 by  
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In February, a few days after the Philadelphia Eagles had won their first Super Bowl, a suburban convenience store celebrated. Hard.

The early-morning event nominally marked the reopening of the renovated store—a squat, tan outpost on a busy road—but it also doubled as an outpouring of football frenzy. Green-and-white noisemakers rattled. Eagles cheers punctuated the formal remarks. The mayor spoke, backed by rows of potato chips, while rush-hour commuters darted in for coffee and breakfast sandwiches. A towering goose mascot helped cut a big red ribbon.

In the back room, wedged between computer servers and a first-aid kit, a brown packing box of Newport Menthol Gold at his feet, the man largely responsible for this $10 billion family empire grinned. «People ask what a non-executive chairman does. I tell them: Whatever he wants!» jokes Dick Wood, 80, who possesses, beneath the kindly exterior of a soft-spoken Florida retiree, a spine of steel. «I think I’m a myth.»

Among entrepreneurs, almost. Most family businesses don’t survive the third generation, yet Wood is comfortably watching his multi-generation company thrive. That would be Wawa, the much-beloved convenience store that you likely know either intimately or not at all.

Dick Wood, Wawa’s last family CEO and current chairman, at a store re-opening in Media, Pennsylvania. Wood made gutsy moves in the ’90s that ensured Wawa’s survival–and its success. CREDIT: Mark Peterson

Now Wawa’s semi-retired chairman, Wood was the second and longest-serving chief executive of a four-CEO company, one that has weathered 54 years of family in-fighting, recessions, and several failed expansion attempts. Wood kept Wawa private, but also started handing it off to non­-family leaders more than a decade ago, betting the best way to ensure Wawa’s future was to separate it from its founding family. His wager paid off. Wawa is still aggressively growing: It now has almost 800 locations­—none franchised—and 30,000 employees in six states (plus Washington, D.C.).

Founded in 1964 by Grahame Wood—Dick’s first cousin once removed—Wawa began as a roadside dairy market in the Philadelphia suburbs. Its founder likely wouldn’t recognize Wawa today, as it expands throughout the East Coast and audaciously tries to muscle out of the gas-station ghetto to compete with the likes of Panera, Starbucks, and Sweetgreen.

After decades of pushing cheap gas and cigarettes and made-to-order sandwiches to suburban crowds, Wawa is starting to
de-emphasize two of the three. The current CEO, Chris Gheysens, is swapping in Tesla charging stations, kale salads, and small-batch coffee, most of which customers can order on their phones (or Wawa’s ubiquitous touchscreens). Gheysens calls this Wawa’s «barbell» strategy: continue to offer the cheap staples that attracted longtime customers, while expanding into cities as the newest health-conscious, gourmet-inflected, casual-lunch option.

«We’ll open up a store this year in Center City Philadelphia that won’t sell cigarettes. It won’t have gas,» says Gheysens, 47, a South Jersey native who looks the part, down to his violet-and-black-plaid blazer and the big Eagles pennant in his pleasantly low-frills office. «When a convenience store doesn’t sell cigarettes and gas, that begins not to be a convenience store.»

That’s starting to become obvious throughout Wawa’s empire, including at the gleaming new complex looming over Red Roof, the family’s century-old estate at Wawa’s headquarters. The same split is visible at Wawa’s stores: The suburban pit stop whose reopening Dick Wood presided over is the ugly duckling to the swan—or goose; more on that later—near Washington’s Dupont Circle, a would-be gastropub with bar seating, brick walls, and industrial-chic exposed ceilings. (Face the Nation has a standing Sunday order.) The chain’s next planned flagship, in downtown Philadelphia, promises couches, café tables, «industrial and art deco elements,» vaulted ceilings, and a mural.

This is not Wawa’s first overhaul. «We’ve changed a lot over the years,» reflects Wood, who carefully orchestrated much of that change. But many of his efforts were internal, incremental; Gheysens is aiming at the most visible aspects of Wawa’s longtime—and fiercely beloved—identity.

I grew up with Wawa, but I wasn’t born into it. My Midwestern parents moved to Pennsylvania’s Delaware County, home to Wawa’s headquarters and many of its stores, when I was 6. Initially, we were confused by this «Wah-wah» that generated religious-level local fervor. (The name is taken from an Ojibwe word for the Canadian goose. Hence the goose logo and mascots.)

Soon enough, we became acolytes, won over by last-minute groceries and better-than-average coffee; my brothers, both now living far from Wawa outposts, still swear by its hoagies and breakfast sandwiches. But Wawa transcends local celebrity. «On their best day, most of the sub chains can’t top, for example, Wawa’s tuna hoagie on whole wheat,» Food & Wine recently declared. «Heaven, for a few bucks.» This year, Wawa achieved another level of pop-culture fame: During a pre-Super Bowl skit on Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey hoisted a basketful of Wawa hoagies to proclaim her Philly pride. And, like any all-night restaurant, the chain is always there to make fresh sandwiches for the closing-time crowd. «I feel like I should be too old to be winding up in Wawas at 1 a.m.,» one friend, a thirtysomething Wharton MBA student, recently sighed.

It’s not just the sandwiches that win notice. In 2005, Harvard Business Review singled out Wawa’s rigorous employee training and the resulting strong customer service culture. That training was developed through a proprietary program with Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University; the company now handles training on its own. «Nowhere else in my daily life does anyone hold open the door for me, except in a Wawa,» says Ronald Dufresne, a management professor at St. Joseph’s who worked on that program. «In a Wawa store, people are nice to each other.»

Like Wegmans or In-N-Out, Wawa is usually described as a cult brand, a regional player—a Mid-Atlantic specialist confined to a narrow niche. That niche, though, is huge. The company claims $10 billion in annual revenue. (Wawa also says it’s profitable, though it won’t discuss specifics or how much revenue comes from gas sales.) Top dog in the $550 billion U.S. convenience store industry is 7-Eleven, which took in $29 billion in U.S. revenue in 2017. But Wawa is now eyeing new competitors: quick-service and fast-casual chains like Dunkin’ Donuts or even Chipotle, which sells nearly $4.5 billion in burrito bowls and guacamole annually.

Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens at a recent in-store event. CREDIT: Mark Peterson

As Wawa edges upmarket, executives and fans cite a key advantage: its workers, their role in that company culture—and their financial stake, since Wawa is now 41 percent employee-owned. (See below.) Wawa asks employees to «fulfill lives, every day,» and promote six core values—one of which is «embrace change.»

«They do a great job,» says Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst for NPD Group, who calls Wawa one of several «food-forward» convenience stores; others are Wawa’s in-state rival Sheetz, Baltimore’s Royal Farms, and Tulsa’s QuikTrip. All seek to compete with the «quick-service restaurants» that make up one of the fastest-growing and most-competitive segments of the restaurant industry. High-end chefs are spinning off fast-casual concepts; startups focused on salad and burgers and poke all vie to be the next Shake Shack; fast-food behemoths like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts are upgrading ingredients; grocery stores with prepared-food sections are becoming «grocerants.» (Seriously.)

Yet while it tries to level up, Wawa’s business still relies on volume and speed. The company makes «very few partial pennies per customer,» Gheysens says, «but for a lot of customers»—800 million of them annually. Bring people in for a cup of coffee or a tank of gas or to get cash at the store’s fee-free ATMs, and they’ll likely buy something else: a bag of chips, a Tastykake, a highly customized hoagie—or, since the prices are so low, all of the above. (An average convenience-store customer spends $4.12, according to NPD; Wawa says theirs spends $7.42.)

Wawa’s ability to sell so much so quickly relies on technology, tightly controlled supply-chain operations, and a «cluster» expansion strategy that establishes most new stores near other Wawas. The company introduced touchscreen ordering in 2002, getting a decade-long jump on the iPad menus that many fast-casual restaurants now use (reducing labor costs and making customized orders—and upselling—much easier). Its distribution partner, McLane, runs what Wawa calls the supplier’s only dedicated warehouse in the U.S., in New Jersey. Last year, Gheysens oversaw the launch of an oil barge and tug to bring 7.8 million gallons of gas from the Gulf of Mexico to Florida stores three times per month. The barge reportedly cost up to $80 million.

Given splurges like that—and the average $6 million per store Wawa is spending to open hundreds of Florida locations and establish itself in the pricier precincts of Washington—it’s a little astounding how cheap Wawa remains. Gheysens laughs, a little pained, when I mention a recent $10 Wawa dinner — including snack, drink and dessert — purchased in a part of D.C. not known for cheap eats. «We largely do not have a different urban pricing strategy,» says Gheysens, who’s spent most of his 21 years at Wawa in accounting and finance. «Consistency is really important to our customers.»

«In a Wawa, people are nice to each other,» says a professor who knows the company.

A one-time Deloitte analyst who became CEO in 2013, Gheysens took over in the midst of the company’s push into Florida. He’s continued that blitz while shifting his gaze to big cities: downtown Philadelphia, which the chain once neglected in favor of the suburbs and highways around them; D.C., a city long encircled by Wawas while lacking any at its core; potential new cities between Philadelphia and Wawa’s Florida beachheads; even, maybe someday, the food-and-retail gauntlet of New York.

«We are afraid to change much,» Gheysens says, while laying out ambitious plans to do just that. But Wawa has always been quietly reinventing itself.

«My father spent most of his career keeping the family out of the business.» That’s Rich Wood, Dick’s son and Wawa’s head of government relations and sustainability. «I was always told I would never be in the business by him. Constantly,» adds Rich, who left a role at Coca-Cola and spent two years pulling shifts in 24-hour Wawa stores before his dad let him into headquarters.

Dick Wood remains bluntly unsentimental about family and business. He and his brother George—also on the board—«decided a long time ago that what was important to the family was: ‘What’s the value of a share of stock, and what’s my dividend?’ » Dick says. «The family is very happy to have somebody running the business who wants to grow the business.»

For the first 300 years or so, that was a Wood. Wawa was nominally founded in 1964, when Grahame Wood opened his first market in a rural suburb. But it really dates back to 1902, when Grahame’s grandfather George Wood opened the Wawa dairy farm, which would eventually supply that store. And to 1803, when George’s uncle David C. Wood opened the first of the New Jersey iron foundries that would eventually provide the capital to buy the dairy. And to 1682, when the first Richard Wood came from England to colonial Philadelphia (at the same time as fellow Quaker William Penn) and started building a dynasty. It went on to encompass textile companies, children’s hospitals, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Philadelphia Bank, and a dry goods business that, in the late 1830s, outsourced some debt-collection work in Illinois to a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln.

Wawa’s first store, in Folsom, Pennsylvania, which opened April 16, 1964. It was the first of three stores opened by Grahame Wood that year. Its first-day sales: a princely $359.86. CREDIT: Courtesy Wawa

(The Woods also intersected with other local, politically-connected dynasties; the du Ponts, of chemical fame, and the McNeils, of Tylenol fortune, both have supporting roles in the Wawa story.)

By the early 1960s, as super­markets started to eat into his dairy’s home-delivery business, Grahame Wood had begun researching convenience stores, visiting a friend who owned some in Ohio. He returned with a plan to open three stores that would sell Wawa’s milk and other perishables.

«He was a man who could roll up his sleeves,» recalls Maria Thompson, an architectural historian who married Grahame’s nephew and serves as Wawa’s corporate historian. She credits the company’s management culture to «Uncle Grady’s» paratrooper service during World War II: «There’s this sense of building a team, where I’m relying on you for my life,» she says. «It’s never one person who’s responsible.»

In 1970, Grahame hired his cousin’s son, Richard D. Wood Jr.—Dick—a young lawyer who’d advised companies on mergers and acquisitions and IPOs.

Which was perfect training. «I formed a really negative reaction to being public,» Dick says. «I don’t think we could have driven the company to the size it is, with the culture it has, without being a private company. You’re making short-term decisions, and we are focused on long-term decisions.» (Gheysens agrees, saying he’s «publicly, on the record,» not interested in an IPO.)

Grahame named Dick to succeed him in 1977 and died in 1982. In his 2014 company bible, The Wawa Way, former CEO Howard Stoeckel recounts a story Dick repeated: On his final trip home from the hospital, Grahame asked his ambulance driver to stop at a Wawa construction site. He wanted to check on the progress.

Dick Wood spent the 1980s and 1990s expanding Wawa’s product lineup beyond dairy and deli meats, gradually transforming Wawa from quasi-grocery to sandwich shop. His early attempt at selling gas flopped; the second, in 1993, succeeded, ushering in what Gheysens calls the era of «big gas» and suburban-focused expansion. «You have to give them credit for having a really good business, but not standing pat, and incrementally changing to comport with how the customers are changing,» says John Stanton, a food marketing professor at St. Joseph’s who’s consulted for Wawa.

Wawa spent a lot of the 1990s learning from failure, like a short-lived attempt to sell products from Taco Bell and Pizza Hut—what The Wawa Way generously, if rather inelegantly, considers «ethnic food.» (Today, Wawa’s best food remains proudly basic: turkey hoagies, soft pretzels, croissant-egg-cheese breakfast sandwiches.)

Dick Wood also spent the 1990s figuring out how to manage his family. Wawa ownership was mostly split between two separate family trusts, and one trustee started trying to force a sale or an IPO. In 1998, the company sold a stake to an investment group controlled by the McNeil family—the Tylenol heirs—who, within five years, tried to force Wawa to go public.

Fortunately, Dick had a backup plan, one he’d started setting up in 1992 to reward longtime employees and start cashing out his family: an employee stock-ownership program, or ESOP. Wawa bought back the McNeils’ stake for $142 million, and asked employees to start switching some of their retirement funds from Wawa’s 401(k) plan to the ESOP. The workers did. Fifteen years later, many are retiring as millionaires.

Which is to say that Dick—who comes off as a warm, funny, and slightly fragile senior citizen, who carefully unbuckled his briefcase to share a glossy, seven-page family tree—is also a sharp and ruthlessly smart strategist. Wawa’s six core values include the inoffensive «passion for winning.» Dick argued for the tougher «never be satisfied.» He also delayed his retirement in part because «I wanted to make sure one of our vice presidents retired,» Dick recalls. «He did!»

In the early 2000s, Dick also gave interviews for articles that named his nephew, Wawa’s then-president and CFO, Thère du Pont—yes, of those du Ponts—as his successor. But when he retired in 2005, Wood instead appointed the first outsider CEO: Howard Stoeckel, a former human resources executive at the Limited, who joined Wawa in 1987 and rose to become its enthusiastically folksy marketer in chief. Du Pont «was smart, but values and culture mean more in this company than being smart,» Dick says. (Thère du Pont did not respond to requests for comment.)

While not a family member, Stoeckel was a well-known quantity to Wawa employees. He approached the job with a healthy appreciation for Wawa’s culture, and with a philosophy that continued laying the groundwork for Gheysens. «I realized I had to be willing to try things,» Stoeckel says. «Not everything would work, but we don’t penalize failure here. If you learn from failure, you’re rewarded.»

Stoeckel’s biggest practical goal was overseeing Wawa’s first major geographic jump, to Florida, where Wawas started opening in 2012. While far from Wawa’s supply chain and store clusters, the Sunshine State was otherwise welcoming: a big territory, affordable real estate, an established convenience-store culture, and many transplants from Wawa’s home turf—including one Dick Wood.

Beverage concept development manager Michael McLaughlin, sampling the premium coffee the chain increasingly looks to sell. CREDIT: Mark Peterson

At 59, when he became CEO, Stoeckel soon started looking for a successor. The board settled on Gheysens, who grew up working in his father’s car wash. After graduating from Villanova, Gheysens went to Deloitte, where Wawa became a client. He jumped to the retailer in 1997 and worked his way up to CFO.

Five years after formally taking over, Gheysens regularly consults with his two immediate predecessors—even when he’s departing from their longstanding suburban strategy. «We are a big test-and-learn organization,» he says.

The first test of his urban pivot came when he persuaded Wawa’s board to sign off on a big new store in Center City Philadelphia—and built it within 85 days, ahead of the crowds who flocked to the pope’s 2015 visit to the city. The bet, and hustle, paid off. «We’re about 50 percent higher than we thought we’d be, in terms of sales and volumes,» Gheysens says. «There could be more—we’re just maxed out.» Suddenly, Wawa had a new focus: cities, and their food-savvy residents.

Half a mile from the renovated Wawa’s celebrations, at a larger, newer Wawa with gas pumps outside and tables out back, training general manager Denise Haley is overseeing operations. A cheerfully competent presence with carefully plucked eyebrows and long brown hair, Haley walks me through industrial kitchens, past cold cases full of energy drinks and a freezer holding Halo Top and Wawa ice cream. She greets colleagues and customers without breaking stride, and then throws a smile to the visiting cigarette sales reps. «They pay us a lot of money,» she confides.

Haley started at Wawa in 1994, and is in all respects a company lifer. After asking where I grew up, she quickly identifies the closest Wawa. «Oh, store 54!» she rattles off. Then: «That’s Paul’s store. My brother was married to his sister.»

She also makes a few appearances in The Wawa Way, as a paragon of Wawa’s customer service. In one anecdote, Haley made a house call to a regular, an 89-year-old woman who fell and contacted the Wawa for help, and drove her to the ER.

Beyond the occasional book cameo, or an annual resort trip for top managers, Haley and other longtime employees have been well rewarded for their tenures at Wawa, thanks to the company’s ESOP, which, by some accounts, is the second-largest in the U.S. This setup isn’t without tensions; as Wawa’s growth has accelerated, so have payouts. Wawa recently agreed to pay $25 million to settle a lawsuit from former employees that claimed that after they left, the company prematurely cashed them out of the ESOP. (Wawa declined to comment.) That lawsuit, and a few others involving overtime and racial discrimination claims at individual stores, point to another challenge: Wawa’s labor force has increased dramatically in recent years. Wawa had 20,000 employees when Gheysens took over in 2013; it now employs more than 30,000 people—and 5,000 more in summer.

Wawa says its turnover rate is lower than average for retail, a sector with a notoriously high churn. But as the company continues to expand, and does so without franchising, Wawa must figure out how to maintain its employee training and its customer service reputation at massive scale.

«Probably the thing that makes Wawa the hardest is making sure you have the right people at all times,» Gheysens acknowledges. «Wawa’s hard to work in.»

Another big issue: Technology, especially as Amazon, with its no-checkout stores and its takeover of Whole Foods, attempts to overshadow the brick-and-mortar retail ecosystem. After Wawa’s long-ago bet on touchscreen ordering, Gheysens has introduced mobile ordering and delivery, through a partnership with Grubhub.

But perhaps the most immediate challenge will be finding the right balance for Gheysens’s barbell. One end is obvious: Within the past year, Wawa has introduced «reserve» coffee sourced from small-batch beans from Kenya and Tanzania. Some stores have salad counters that could compete with those at Chopt or Sweetgreen. And the company is developing «artisan sandwiches» that have what Gheysens calls «really high-end» meats—and higher prices.

Yet Wawa can’t ignore longtime customers. Their loyalty helped Wawa sell 80 million hoagies and 200 million cups of coffee last year—and can generate reactions like Philadelphia magazine’s grumbling over declining hoagie quality, or the great hazelnut decaf backlash of 2009, when Wawa discontinued a lower-selling blend and promptly «got blasted,» Gheysens recalls. He’s trying to avoid a repeat.

Most of the heavy lifting happens at Wawa’s gleaming new headquarters, in a 10,000-square-foot test kitchen populated by chefs, nutritionists, food scientists, and beverage specialists. One recent day, an employee offers tastes of the sesame-seed hoagie rolls she’s rigorously comparing, before Wawa’s beverage expert walks me through a small-batch «cupping,» the coffee snob’s sniff-slurp-spit equivalent of a wine tasting. Meanwhile, two chefs study an array of chickpeas, scallions, and lemons, ready to experiment with a «green tehina» sauce that, one admits, «is a bit out there for our customers.»

Which won’t necessarily stop Wawa from trying to sell it—so long as it can fit into what Gheysens declares to be the end goal of all of this transformation. «We are proudly a convenience store,» he says. «We just want to be the best one.»

How Wawa stayed private—and how its workers won.

About 14.4 million Ameri­can workers participated in employee stock ownership programs (ESOPs) as of 2015, up from 10.2 million in 2002, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership. The overall number of plans has declined, which the NCEO attributes to inactive plans some companies registered in the late 1990s, as well as low creation rates since then.

«What you want in a corporate culture with an ESOP is a lot of ‘in the same boat’ identification between all the workers and managers,» says Joseph R. Blasi, director of Rutgers University’s Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing. «You want the company using the workers as a consumer brand, which Wawa does—it’s all over their stores.»

ESOPs work like this: Once an employee has worked for a specified time and/or hours, a company starts buying shares for that employee, often using credit. (At Wawa, anyone who’s worked more than a year, who’s logged at least 1,000 hours, and who’s at least 18 is enrolled.)

Shares rise or fall with company fortunes; their prices must be reported. When a worker retires, or within six years of leaving, the company must start paying the shares’ current value. A Wawa share was about $900 when its ESOP expanded in 2003. It’s now worth almost $10,000.

Which has paid off handsomely for longtime employees like Cheryl Farley, who started part time at Wawa in 1982. In April, she retired from the IT department at age 58—and promptly embarked on a busy schedule of birding trips around North America; cruising Alaska and the Caribbean; and visits to fellow Wawa retirees, some of whom built beach houses with ESOP earnings. «Because of the ESOP, many recent retirees are doing things that many people would never dream of,» Farley says. «I’m healthy, I’m young and I get to relax.»

Wawa’s Playing Field

The Company: Wawa claims $10 billion in annual revenue, which puts it among the top 20 U.S. chains tracked by Convenience Store News.

The Competitors: The convenience store business—a $550 billion industry—is dominated by giants like the Japanese-owned 7-Eleven, which last year took in $29 billion from 8,700 North American outposts, and Alimentation Couche-Tard, the Quebecois owner of Circle K and Dairy Mart.

The New Rivals: Fast food, old and new: Panera ($2.8 billion in revenue in 2016, before it sold for $7.5 billion to German conglomerate JAB), Dunkin’ Donuts ($860 million in revenue), Chipotle ($4.5 billion in revenue)—and even the fast-growing likes of Sweetgreen.

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