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Mini-cast 80: Sheetz & Wawa Step Up

Wawa and Sheetz are PA-based convenience store chains. Both have small ESOPs, and both are stepping up during the pandemic. Bret Keisling discusses Wawa's commitment to food pantries and Sheetz' pandemic pay raise for employees.

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Here is the announcement from Wawa and Sheetz putting their rivalry aside to jointly donate to Helping Harvest and Second Harvest LV food banks.


Mini-cast 80 Transcript

Announcer: 00:03 Welcome to The ESOP Mini-cast, a great way to wrap up the week.

Bret Keisling: 00:14 Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. Today I want to spend a few minutes sharing about two employee owned companies that are going above and beyond during the national pandemic. Sheetz and Wawa are leaders in the convenience store segment. They're both really cool companies and coincidentally both are headquartered in Pennsylvania. According to CSP, which covers the convenience retail market, Wawa is the 9th largest convenience chain with 833 stores as of the end of 2018. Wawa stores are located in six states and the District of Columbia. Sheetz is the 14th largest convenience chain according to CSP Daily News with 584 stores in six States as of 2018. Both companies have employee stock ownership plans or ESOPs.

Bret Keisling: 01:09 Unlike a lot of ESOPs we discuss, which are 100% employee owned or at least have a minimum of 20 to 35% of the outstanding shares, Sheetz and Wawa's trusts own only a small percentage of company shares. Here's an example where Sheetz and Wawa's small ESOP stake is very appropriate as an added benefit to their employees. Even though neither company has a particularly strong identity as employee owned, both companies by the nature of their industry, excelled at many of the important culture metrics that are used to evaluate employee owned companies. It's evident when you go into their stores that the employees present themselves as team members. Indeed, being a member of the team is an integral part of each company's recruitment. I've often said that an ESOP will not turn a bad company into a good one, but it can make a good company a great company.

Bret Keisling: 02:04 Here, Sheetz and Wawa are both great companies. The fact that they both have ESOPs may be indicative of their corporate approaches, but these would both be great companies even without their ESOPs.

Bret Keisling: 02:16 One thing I've learned in the last few months as we all struggle with the pandemic is how we central convenience stores have been throughout the pandemic and even before. Like a lot of their competitors, Sheetz and Wawa offer amazing food. Wawa is well known for their hoagies, which is what they call submarine sandwiches or subs in Philadelphia, and Sheetz's MTO "made to order food" selections are pretty amazing as well. I've been in central Pennsylvania throughout the pandemic where Sheetz has a number of locations and it's been a comfort to know that they've been here 24 hours a day for all of their customers. When it seemed like there was nowhere else to buy food, it was great to know that Sheetz has been there and I'm sure the Wawa customers and convenience store customers nationwide feel the same way.

Bret Keisling: 03:01 Both Sheetz and Wawa have stepped up during the pandemic in distinct but equally cool ways. Wawa has announced that its foundation has donated $250,000 to food pantries in various parts of its market area. Meanwhile, for a number of weeks, Sheetz has been paying its employees an extra $3 an hour for work during the crisis. Recently Sheetz announced that they'll continue doing so through June. I think this is a great way for both companies to step up.

Bret Keisling: 03:30 Let me talk about Wawa for just a moment. Food shortages are on everybody's radar as a potential problem and the fact of the matter is many folks, and I'm one of them, haven't had to worry about where my next meal is coming from, but so many people who are hurt by the pandemic don't have the resources, don't have the funds to go out and buy. Our food pantries are overwhelmed and the fact that a quarter of a million dollars shows Wawa's commitment to feeding its communities, whether it's through their stores or through the food pantries.

Bret Keisling: 04:10 Wawa, by the way, I would like to explain about their name and you can find the story on its website, but Wawa is actually a Native American word for a type of Canadian goose that was prevalent in the Philadelphia area a hundred years ago or so. Wawa, Pennsylvania is a very small community and Wawa happens to be where the company Wawa was founded, but it also explains knowing that Wawa is a Native American word, it also explains why they have a goose in their logo. I just thought that was kind of cool.

Bret Keisling: 04:52 As for Sheetz, I think it's great as their employees have kept their stores open and truly I want to pause and thank everybody who's been able to go to work for going to work. We've often on the podcast focused about those who are out of work or laid off and that sort of thing, and that's understandable to have that focus, but we've all seen that America has continued functioning to the extent that it has, by many, many employees who have gone to work because we've needed them to. For Sheetz to make the commitment to pay $3 an hour [more] during the crisis I think is just a great step.

Bret Keisling: 05:38 If you're fortunate enough to live in Sheetz or Wawa's market areas, I suspect you've already been there. To be honest with you, in central Pennsylvania where I'm in Sheetz's market area, the closest Wawa is about 40 miles away, but we're close enough to Wawa's market area that there are conversations people have, whether you're a Sheetz guy or a Wawa gal. It's reminiscent when I was a graphic designer in the nineties and there were the great Mac / PC battles back then. Both companies engender tremendous loyalty among their customers and if you stop in, I'm sure you'll see what creates the loyalty.

Bret Keisling: 06:19 If you're aware of any employee owned companies, whether ESOP co-op or collective who are doing anything worthy of attention during the pandemic, we'd love to hear about them. We'd love to highlight them. They could be doing something for their community like Wawa, doing something for their employees like Sheetz, or perhaps they've altered their manufacturing for response to the pandemic or they're just treating their employees and their team members very well. We'll have contact information in just a moment. Bring them to our attention. I'd love to highlight them on a future podcast. With that, we'll bring this episode to a close. Thank you so much for joining me today. Stay safe and be well. I'm Bret Keisling. Goodbye.

Bitsy McCann: 07:04 We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

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