Door Etiquette: Wawa and My Wife

crutches christening

My students went on a little field trip yesterday.

As part of Villanova’s Summer Business Institute, which enables non-business students to earn a business minor in one summer, we focus on one company throughout the program to use as a point of reference for many of the concepts. This summer, the company is Wawa, a regional chain of convenience stores. (Actually the BEST chain of convenience stores in the country!)

Prior to the start of the program, the students were given their first assignment – to read ‘The Wawa Way‘, a book about the history of Wawa as well as the key factors that led to its phenomenal success. Their next assignment, which took place yesterday, was a field trip to various Wawas to gather some market research data.

One of the pieces of data they were asked to track was how often a customer held the door for the next customer. While that may seem like an unusual item to monitor, the reason for doing so is that in the book about Wawa, the authors made a point that such behavior is something that makes Wawa different.

When I first read that I didn’t think it was anything special, most people hold the door for the next customer coming in to a store, or the post office, or an office building. I thought it was an unusual item for Wawa to claim makes them  different.

However, this past year, we were fortunate to have the CEO come to our business school and talk to our freshmen class, and he brought up the story of the door holding. Wawa has actually measured how long the average customer holds the door for someone, and they noticed at Wawa it was significantly longer than how long people held the door for someone at other establishments. So apparently it is something that differentiates Wawa from other businesses.

So during class today I asked the students about their field trip experience, and many of the students commented on the door holding behavior. Some students said that it didn’t seem any different than what they observe elsewhere, others said that it appeared as if the customers not only held the door for other customers, but seemed happy to do so. On student, who is from Boston, commented that he was surprised at how friendly people were, particularly compared to people from Boston. Another student from Texas was also impressed with how courteous the customers were. And Wawa is a Philadelphia company, a city that often doesn’t have the greatest rep for people behavior.

As part of this discussion, I noted the inherent value in treating people with respect, and that somehow Wawa has been able to create a culture where that type of behavior is the norm.

I then told the students that I was surprised about what a big deal the whole Wawa door thing seems to be, since holding the door for the next person is just something that was ingrained into me as a child by my parents and teachers.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still open the door for my wife when she is getting in the passenger seat of our car. It started when we first met each other, and 37 years later, it’s just something that comes naturally, like holding the door for someone at Wawa.

Unfortunately, even the best of intentions don’t always work out the way we hope.

You may be wondering what the picture at the top of the post has to do with anything that’s been written so far. Well, that is a picture from the baptism of our second child. If you look closely at the picture, you will notice that my wife is using crutches.

The reason she is using the crutches is that two nights before the baptism we had gone out shopping. When we were finished shopping, we walked back to our car and I opened the door for her. Unfortunately, I shut the door before her foot was all the way in. To make along story short, after a trip to the E.R., it was determined that her foot was broken and she would need to wear a small bandage on her foot, along with using crutches. Fortunately she was a good sport about it, and soon after we were making jokes about the incident.

So while things may not always turn out the way we imagine, it’s still always better to err on the side of being kind.

I’ve also noticed that 30 years later, my wife is much quicker about getting her feet inside the car…

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