BrainTrust Advice 2006: ‘Told You So, Wawa’

Dec 20, 2006

By George Anderson

Wawa has a lot of fans on the RetailWire BrainTrust. That explains the almost universally positive discussions that took place this year as members of the RW community offered opinions on the chain’s commitment to its people, customers and other factors that make it a company worth watching, no matter which channel you do business in.

“Wawa has long been on my list of most admired firms. It’s near legendary in its home markets of NJ and Eastern PA, where it excels at serving the morning coffee and lunch trade.
Its use of kiosk and order queuing technology to speed the ordering process during the morning and midday peaks is a model for the C-store industry. I’m not sure it’s quite valid
to compare Wawa, a convenience store, against a full-line grocer like U.K.’s Waitrose. But its systematic approach to providing fresh, fast, accurate service is worth emulating
in any channel of trade.” – James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

“Wawa has 500 stores in five states, and focuses on owning the land and buildings for its locations. The longest-lived retailers own their real estate, they don’t lease it. Wawa’s
geographical concentration keeps its logistics, supervision, and promotional costs minimized.” – Mark
Lilien, Consultant, Retail Technology Group

“Wawa is an example of bigger is not always better. There may be many who are larger, but there aren’t many who are better. They do an excellent job of training their people
and my guess is that their turnover is lower than most. Their commitment to people, whether employee or customer, shows. They set standards, measure them and then act on the information…
Retailers who listen to the consumer and deliver a good product and good customer service will turn the consumer into a customer. Wawa, talks the talk, but also walk the walk.
Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned from Wawa is to carry through on your commitment to people and service. Because if you do it, they will shop.” – Bernie
Slome, VP Business Development, ICC/Decision Services

“Wawa has always been unique and an innovator, so it doesn’t surprise me that they’d be one of the innovators in private label in C-stores. This can only help them. They’re hampered
somewhat by their size so that they don’t have the critical mass and hence economies of scale that some others do, but that hasn’t held them back so far.” – Warren
Thayer, Editor, Refrigerated & Frozen Food Retailer; Contributing Editor, PL Buyer

“Wawa can be just as good a brand as Subway…and has license to cover more packaged items to boot. I probably wouldn’t buy Subway chips or candy, but Wawa? Maybe.” – Ben
Ball, Senior Vice President, Dechert-Hampe

“There are many ways to succeed in retail and though many say the right things few do the planning and implementation required to consistently follow through and deliver. Wawa
is one of the few.” – Mike Tesler, President, Retail Concepts

Discussion Questions: What can others learn from Wawa? Is there something that you believe Wawa can pick up from another retailer as it heads into 2007?

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5 Comments on "BrainTrust Advice 2006: ‘Told You So, Wawa’"

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Russell Jones
Russell Jones
15 years 5 months ago

Forget about the usual factors. Wawa’s biggest challenge will be the ability of the top executives to remain focused on leading — reconfirming the Wawa mission every day, serving customers well, valuing employees. The growth of the chain will increase the management — in contrast to leadership — demands and make it more difficult for the top executives to remain in touch with what is really happening in the field. Continue to build enticing stores and don’t let HQ become more attractive, important, or valuable than the field.

Mark Lilien
15 years 5 months ago

Wawa’s location concentration pays big dividends. The logistics savings and the ease of supervision both improve customer service. In a closely-related business, gas stations, several times in the past various brands swapped dozens or hundreds of locations with each other, to increase regional intensity. Too many retailers suffer from excessive competition, overextended logistics networks, and undersupervision. Why not swap stores with your competitors, to increase dominance in a local geography? It’s better to have 5% market share in 1 state than 1% market share in 5 states.

Kai Clarke
15 years 5 months ago

From store brands to customer service, Wawa is mixing it up in the right direction. They have the right solution to delivering what their customers want in the channel. Best yet, they are growing in the right way: through internal growth from external demand. They are pushing their way into areas which don’t speak to their C-store roots, while exploring the best in technologies to maximize their delivery of products and services to their customers. They will soon be knocking on the doors of industry stalwarts as they grow from a local regional to a mega regional player.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 5 months ago
Wawa stays in touch with the business. Intimately. In the glory days of 7-Eleven we tried to serve 7,000 store locations. Too much stuff going on. We lost touch. Customers could not expect the same experience from store to store, nor could we express consistent marketing messages across the board. In the Northeast we featured excellent coffee. Elsewhere, our coffee often more closely resembled burnt, dirty water. How do you take credit for that? In the late 70s at Fleming Foods, we served Wawa from our Philadelphia warehouse. I was responsible for part of their marketing. We had to resign the business because we couldn’t make money on the multiple, small-offput deliveries using our full-size trailers. Heck, we had to re-set the rear wheels on our trailers (the so-called “California set”) so we could make the tight turns required to back into the Wawa locations. The historical rear-view mirror indicates that Fleming’s resignation of the business was a seminal moment for Wawa. They had to reconsider their logistics and locations completely if they were to… Read more »
John Lofstock
John Lofstock
15 years 4 months ago

As someone that has covered Wawa for many years I can honestly say that what helps set Wawa apart from many of its competitors is its inherent commitment to customers service and its employees. Where others may look to cut a corner here or there on one or both of these important operating areas, they are essentially management’s top consideration every day.

I have been at seminars where some of Wawa’s leaders actually said they chose not to build new stores even though they had identified a good piece of property because they did not think they could assemble a staff to provide the level of service customers expect from Wawa. That’s a far cry from a company like Home Depot, which spends millions every year in TV commercials telling consumers how good its service is, but fails at actually executing superior service. There are few companies across all retail channels that can talk the talk and walk the walk as well as Wawa.


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