One Store, Three Viewpoints

Beauty is in the eye of the c-store beholder

Linda Abu-Shalback Zid, Senior Editor

BALTIMORE -- Three reporters walk into a convenience store. … While that might sound like the setup for a joke, it's actually more like a setup for a social experiment.

The three entered the same store in Baltimore, Wawa's newest, which just had its grand opening last week. But each came away with a different experience, highlighting the fact that there's more to a c-store than what might meet your own (and each customer's) eyes.

For Samantha Oller, senior editor/special projects coordinator, it was about the store setup.

"The new Wawa format is like three retail sites in one: a c-store on the sides with tobacco and traditional center-store offerings; a quick-serve restaurant (QSR) at the back with three touchscreens for made-to-order food; and a grocery store at the front, with three checkout counters running lengthwise to the entrance.

"While not all of the counters were staffed by employees--one clerk manned the first counter, where all customers were checking out--it does seem well set up to handle the busiest times of day.

"The coffee bar featured 12 urns of coffee, which may partly reflect the grand opening's offer of a free cup of coffee for customers, but also suggests the site is positioned to handle large hot-beverage volumes."

The plethora of beverages are what caught the eye of Linda Zid, senior editor, and there was something else too.

"I'm always hearing about the important role bathrooms play in a c-store. While there wasn't a lot to this one--two stalls, sinks and a hand dryer--what struck me was how sparkly clean a brand-new bathroom starts out as. And speaking of clean, I also liked that there was hand sanitizer right when you walk into the store.

"There were also lots of options for beverages, with the stocked cooler doors, a F'Real machine (along with premade product), Icees, 16 types of sodas that you could add vanilla, cherry, raspberry and chocolate flavoring to, a cappuccino machine with nine options and many coffees to choose from. To go with the beverages, there was a center island with a cooler full of fresh fruit, veggies and dips and other fresh items. For the carb lover in me, there also was a variety of fresh pretzels, and the company was trying out a new fresh-baked rolls recipe (with signage highlighting the fact, and asking customers to weigh in)."

For Mitch Morrison, vice president and group editor, it was all about the focus on food.

"The three-headed flat-panel TV screens make it very clear upon entry that this is not a typical convenience store with parallel aisles, stilted gondolas, ceiling danglers and same-old, same-old.

"The new Wawa store in Baltimore is exceedingly clear about its core focus: Fresh food. Front and center is not the checkout, but rather the hoagie station. There, abetted by two food-ordering kiosks, a young man and young women are neatly arranging subs with various deli meats, sweet pickles, peppers, lettuce, onions and myriad toppings and dressings--all in the spirit of customization. I like it.

"There is upselling with that order too. From the ceiling-suspended flat screen and the kiosk, mac and cheese is for the taking for just 99 cents. Not bad at all.

"The store is open and airy. I like that the bananas are fresh and bunched, not separated where they tend to quickly brown, and the fruits are in arm's reach of the sub section.

"On my way to the checkout, I'm greeted by the baked goods, with a healthy selection of pastries and doughnuts, and a few feet after that, another small clutch of chocolate chip cookies and brownies … great impulse idea and perfect conclusion to my dinner order."

Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. currently operates almost 600 c-stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia.

What's the first thing you tend to notice when you walk into a convenience store? We'd love to hear in the comment section below.