Wawa Expands in Wrong Direction: One Man’s Perspective

Discussion
Feb 23, 2012

The closest Wawa (in travel time) to where I live in New Jersey is 14.3 miles south. That’s an inconvenient distance to travel to experience what has become my family’s favorite convenience store.

A recent trip down to the shore area (60 miles south) provided a case in point. Given the option of sitting down to lunch at a restaurant enjoyed by all, almost all in the car voted to go to Wawa instead. We weren’t alone as the parking lot was filled with cars from people grabbing lunch on the go, while just across the street a competitive convenience store’s lot was virtually empty.

So having established our (my) fondness for Wawa, it was with some disappointment that I came across reports recently that the chain was moving southward to open locations in the Washington, D.C. market. It’s not that I begrudge residents of that area the wonderfulness that is Wawa, but come on — why can’t the chain build some stores, heck one store, near (preferably in) the 07016 zip code?

It’s not that other convenience stores don’t do a decent job. We’ve actually got several in the area that are quite good, but they’re just not Wawa. The sandwiches have similar ingredients, but they don’t taste the same. The fountain drink options fall short, too. Red velvet cupcakes? Forget about it — you won’t find them in a c-store not named Wawa.

Discussion Questions: What makes Wawa Wawa? What do other stores need to do to create the same type of fans that Wawa has?

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11 Comments on "Wawa Expands in Wrong Direction: One Man’s Perspective"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Wawa is Wawa because, years ago, they dared to be different and to this day they are obsessed with quality. It really isn’t much more complicated than that.

Any store could build the same fan base if they were willing to be innovative, consistent and customer focused. Of course that’s a lot easier to talk about than it is to do which is why George is still praying that Wawa changes its geographic direction and never varies from its strategic direction.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
10 years 3 months ago

I’ll grant you that Wawa has nice, unique C-stores. Having said that, I think the bar is so low in the C-store industry that they look better than they really are. In my area, Jon’s Subs, Jon Smith Subs, Quizno’s, Carmine’s, and Joseph’s (the latter two are gourmet markets) would all have nothing to fear from Wawa sandwiches. If c-stores really want to compete on take-out food (not sure they do), they should stop comparing themselves to each other and focus on who really does this best.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
Having been involved in designing and implementing in-store digital media solutions since 1997, I have seen many ‘experiments’ with this medium come and go. Wawa was an early adopter and a terrific example of a very successful implementation of the use of in-store digital media. They implemented a very useful and clever ordering and transactional customer-facing kiosk at their sandwich counter. The system allowed you to systematically build your own sandwich by selecting the components (photo icons to speed the transaction) while the staff could focus and create your custom sandwich in a very speedy fashion; this being essential for that lunch crowd. I remember telling my colleagues about this years ago but no one seemed too impressed. They missed the point! This implementation was designed and implemented because of, and into the workflow of the business! In my opinion it still ranks as one of the best implementations of in-store digital media. George, I can’t speak for the quality of their sandwiches, but I bet that they make and sell a lot more sandwiches… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I have no real idea what makes Wawa Wawa. Truth is, I can’t remember ever being in or knowing where a local Wawa might be; or if there are any close to the South Florida area.

I agree with Al’s comment. The bar in the c-store industry is set low, probably not intentionally, but over time, such that any store having a semblance of quality might stand out as different.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Wawa was the first to get rid of provocative magazines. At the time, this was considered a suicidal decision which turned out to be a great idea that brought in whole families together preparing for road trips. With the exception of tobacco, the shelves were rid of any and all socially controversial products. At the same time, Wawa was looking to add product which was new and would expand sales results. It is my observation that Wawa refuses to consider the accepted business practice as a way into the market. They have reinvented every aspect of convenience store marketing from the point of sale systems to same price cash or charge for fuel, plus free air for your tires. Another observation is how they keep tight controls over the amount of inventory items they carry and the market reputation and perception of their vendors. From the beginning, their only goal was and is market share.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Wawa treats their business like any great retailer. They innovate and then relentlessly execute. That they are doing it in the c-store space, where companies often go awry on both counts, makes it more impressive, not less impressive.

Given real estate costs closer to New York, expanding in their current direction makes an awful lot of sense.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
10 years 3 months ago

Wawa has the best tuna sub sandwich, next to Jimmy John’s (a Midwest based chain). Their staff is friendly, stores are clean, seating area (who ever thought they would sit in a c-store?) is comfortable and prices are not ripoff high vs. the competition.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Wawa wins because of its obsessive attention to detail. True, the bar is not very high among its C-store cohort, but this is one operator that has figured out what drives repeat business and taken steps to systematically optimize its master practices.

I wrote a case study about the touch-screen sandwich ordering system (that Adrian referenced) when it was introduced a few years ago. I agree it was quite a brilliant innovation — in part because it smoothed the customer experience and made order fulfillment accuracy close to perfect.

It also sped up throughput during the all-important morning and lunch rushes, effectively expanding the maximum number of orders that could be taken and filled within a two-hour window. At the same time, it automated cross-selling: (“Want slaw with that?”) which upped average order size.

There may be better sandwiches out there, but not better run sandwich shops.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Sorry, George. Your loss is my gain. It’s not just the deliciousness, it’s also the satisfying store experience, the cleanliness, and the electronic ordering. Hurry to DC, Wawa!

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Great products, good prices and reliable service and quality. That is Wawa. Add to this a C-store approach and you have a convenient way to enjoy all of these things and more. Go Wawa!

Kenneth Allan
Guest
Kenneth Allan
10 years 2 months ago

I remember back in the day when Wawa opened its first store in central New Jersey and everyone wondered what the heck is this?

A key to Wawa’s appeal is their full service deli which cranks out fresh made sandwiches, and operates like a well made watch. A market like Long Island, would make more sense than the D.C. area. Yes, costs are high, but the population density makes it a no-brainer. However New York has tough labor laws that might run contrary to some of Wawa’s antiquated personnel policies.

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