Of course, to anyone who’s spent quality time in the Philadelphia region, the idea that Wawa is vastly more popular than any chain ought to be is familiar territory. But sometimes familiarity can create- blindness to the big picture. For Wawa, the picture keeps getting bigger and bigger. Crazy customer loyalty has translated into eye-popping numbers and made Wawa one of the dominant economic forces in Philadelphia—one that supports an entire ecosystem of suppliers and vendors. And slowly—relentlessly—Wawa is transforming: altering its product mix, making bigger footprints whenever it moves.
And that—like everything else about Wawa—is all part of a carefully engineered plan. If you think a convenience store can get to be this successful on Shortis alone, well … there’s more to Wawa than you’d ever guess.
HERE’S A WAKE-UP jolt to illustrate how colossal Wawa has become: It’s now the number eight seller of cups of coffee in the whole country. The only folks selling more cups every day, according to research firm Studylogic, are almost all national chains, like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Burger King and 7-Eleven. 7-Eleven has more than 6,000 stores across America. Wawa has 587 now, limited to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Wawa sells one of every five cups of coffee sold in this region. In 2008, it celebrated selling its one billionth cup of coffee in the 21st century alone.
Wawa sells 80 million hoagies a year, the most in the region. (It’s number one in “total sandwiches,” too, says Studylogic.) In the 15-county Delaware Valley area, Wawa ranks third in overall grocery sales, topped only by ShopRite and Acme, according to an annual survey by Food Trade News, which also says there’s no other region in the country where a convenience-store chain ranks as high as third, and that Wawa’s annual per-store average, nearly $5 million (excluding gas sales), is a number that’s “untouchable by its c-store competitors.”
“You can have Wawa stores that can do $400,000 a week or more, split between fuel and inside the store,” says Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm. “The average 7-Eleven would be stretched to do $25,000 to $30,000 in sales per week.”
Overall, Wawa did $5.89 billion in sales in 2009, making it the country’s 50th largest private company, according to the latest calculation by Forbes magazine. That revenue would place Wawa, if it were a public company, among the handful of Pennsylvania’s Fortune 500 companies. As things are, 50 percent of the company is owned by a trust benefitting members of the founding Wood family, 30 percent by company executives and employees through a stock plan, and the remainder by other Wood relatives and Wawa associates.