It’s a Wawa World

Forget Comcast and Sunoco—the most powerful economic force in Philadelphia these days is the one making your Shorti. How our homegrown convenience store went from cult favorite … to superpower

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.

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  • Zip

    Check your AP Stylebook, please. It’s “Canada” goose, not “Canadian” goose.

  • Katie

    The proposed Conshohocken Super Wawa that was stopped by a “hurtful Stop Wawa campaign on Facebook”, has not been stopped. Despite the 300 residents shouting at a Borough meeting, “we don’t want it, we don’t need it”(http://tinyurl.com/3gwa62g), the developers push full speed ahead.

    Behind the scenes they are making sure the deal quietly moves forward. Morethanthecurve.com has reported a rumored organized effort funded by developers and lawyers to “put in place developer friendly municipal governments and solicitors (borough/township lawyers) across Montco” (http://tinyurl.com/3sjtck6).

    Residents see a critical change to the fiber of Conshohocken if this is developed. This Wal-Mart like megastore will endanger the delis, gas stations, retail and convenience stores, throughout Conshohocken. This would be the third Wawa in the immediate area and will lead to at least ½ a dozen local gas stations almost immediately closing. Sites that cannot quickly be redeveloped because of the underground storage tanks and environmental issues they pose. Making matters worse, this Super Wawa will have diesel fuel, bringing delivery trucks 24/7 through the residential community.

    Residents along Fayette Street vehemently oppose it, for traffic reasons, children safety and the future of their neighborhood. Concerns that fall by the wayside of Wawa attorneys/developers. facebook.com/stopwawa.

  • Fred

    While Wawa is certainly the pride of the Philadelphia area, it should be noted that in the late 1980′s, an internal scandal at Wawa resulted in the hiring of a New York-area purchaser who broke contracts with all Philadelphia vendors and signed on with primarily New York companies. It was not the fault of the family in charge of Wawa, but it was an embarrassing part of the history. I represent a family that lost 80 percent of our business because of that incident, so I am slightly bitter but I think it still is worth mentioning.

  • Amber

    I’m orginally from western PA and a veteran Sheetz customer. When I relocated to the Bucks County area three years ago, I couldn’t understand why there weren’t any Sheetz around, All Wawas. I mostly stick to 7-11 for coffee, and wawa for gas. Nothing Wawa makes compares to a Sheetz MTO!

  • Joe

    I think its funny when you hear about these communities opposing wawa’s being put in their towns. It’s funny because when it does finally get pushed through the approval process and the wawa opens for business, all of those masses who had previously opposed the store are suddenly frequent shoppers. If you don’t like wawa then dont shop there and go ahead and pay 20 more cents a gallon on gas at the dot shop station across the street where the indian guy is talking on his cell phone the whole time and couldnt give 2 shits about you.

  • Concerned

    I wonder what percentage of the resistance to the Wawa in Conshochocken is by business owners on Fayette, specifically gas station owners. I have no pity for the prospects of an oligarchy that charges 10-20 cents more per gallon on average than every surrounding community. Stop gouging the customers, and we won’t demand alternatives.