At the convenience store chain Wawa, ideas abound. Not only are management and frontline employees constantly brainstorming, the company has a 30,000-square-foot innovation design center where it mocks up new store designs, tests new materials and perfects new recipes in the test kitchen.
We can test equipment anddifferent finishes and the efficiency of a store layout,” said Lynn Hochberg, Wawa’s director of product development.
Wawa, which has locations in six states along the East Coast, caters to a fast-casual, to-go market, taking up a space between c-stores and fast casual. It has more than 657 convenience retail stores, and more than 400 of those offer fuel.
Efficiency is key for the company, which focuses on customer counts above all other metrics. “Our goal is to get customers in the door and through the location quickly,” Hochberg said, adding that the company has been balancing the need for speed with innovations in its food service. “The rub right now is that some of our food offerings are more complex. We just introduced a foccacia pizza and a quesadilla burrito. Those things aren’tthe same in terms of preparation as thehoagie. Some of the beverage items—the espressos and the smoothies—alsotake a little longer.”
Wawa recently moved some of itsideas out of the innovation designcenter and into the real world. “We’retesting the waters with another newstore design,” Hochberg said, addingthat there are a few different versionsof new stores that have opened, butthat they all focus on more capacityfor food service and moving custom-ers through quickly
Within its new designs, Wawahas made the checkouts more open with a clear path to move customersin and out. “It is about making thecheckout core,” Hochberg said.
During The NATSO Show 2014 Great Ideas Session for Independent Operators, Hochberg told attendees the company introduced touchscreen ordering in 2000 and had gone to chute checkouts instead of an island to speed movement.
Some of Wawa’s locations are also testing new food offerings, such as milkshakes, which can be tricky because they require new equipment.
The company is also testing different types of signage. “There are a few different versions out there. Some are just more digital signage, some have more of a menu board system, and some have more of the history and messaging about the company’s history,” Hochberg said.
Wawa has also cut down on the number of SKUs it is offering on its grocery items. “It is all focused on the immediate consumption,” Hochberg said.
But more than anything, Hochberg said, the company has spent the past year focusing on its core purpose, which the president and CEO recently updated and introduced at the end of 2013.
“He felt that we needed to connect with the customer at a deeper level. Our new purpose is to fulfill lives every day,” Hochberg said, adding that the previous purpose was to simplify customers’ daily lives. “It still relates back to our values, which didn’t change.”
On its website, the company said, “Wawa believes that it has a role in making the world a better place. For Wawa associates, that doesn’t mean simply filling customer orders—it means fulfilling the lives that they touch every day.”
To drive the company’s purpose home, management is touring the stores, engaging staff and answering their questions. Hochberg said Wawa has always focused on servant leadership, and the new purpose supports that goal.
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