Wawa Ending Drive-In Test

Convenience retailer also terminating foodservice texting trial, CEO says on blog

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

WAWA, Pa. -- Wawa Inc. is discontinuing two pilot foodservice programs, the regional convenience chain's CEO, Howard Stoeckel, said in the most recent update to his blog, "The Bird's Eye View."

"Recently, we made a decision to discontinue two new concepts: Drive-In service at two Virginia stores (effective April 30), which allows customers to order through a remote device without having to enter the store; and texting, a way to pre-order food through text messages or online," he wrote.

In mid-May 2008, the Wawa, Pa.-based company opened a "retro" drive-in foodservice [image-nocss] station at its Yorktown, Va., convenience store; it opened a second drive-in service location in June, in Virginia Beach, Va. (Click here to view a CSPTV segment on the drive-in concept.)

"In both cases, customers showed us that they cherish their connection with our associates, and they're happy with our core offer," Stoeckel said. "Even though we intended to give them a more convenient way to order and purchase products, it's clear our customers prefer their personalized in-store experiences, and truly value the ability to shop, browse and interact with associates."

When the tests were launched, Stoeckel told CSP Daily News, "We want to take convenience to the next level. Many of our customers already eat in their cars. Maybe they have kids in the back seat, they're text messaging or checking their Blackberry. It's multitasking at its best."

Stoeckel said that the service marked the return of 1950s-style customer service, as drive-ins were popular in that era. He also said the service "enable[d] Wawa to connect customers to our brand in another fashion."

He said the cost to implement the Yorktown drive-in was somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000.

An outgrowth of Wawa's "Go Mobile" corporate initiativewhere customers can order food and beverage from six Wawa stores via either web or text messagethe Yorktown drive-in service was part of Wawa's new store design prototype featuring 5,700 sq. ft. of retail space and additional gasoline facility space. Wawa added a drive-in canopy and made renovations to the foodservice area to enable service to the drive-in customers.

Stoeckel said the Yorktown site was an appropriate test-pilot store because it has a successful foodservice business, and also because the chain wanted to demonstrate to Virginia customers that Wawa is first and foremost "a food retailer. This gives us a chance to showcase our brand identify with foodservice. Some consumers in Virginia markets don't understand our heritage as being in dairy, coffee and hoagies. This balances out the food-and-fuel image."

The chain hired 20 part-time, dedicated foodservice employees to support the service, with at least three on duty at all times.

After the second program debuted, Wawa said it planned to evaluate the program before deciding whether to expand it to other locations. "We'll see how things play out. This program is a classic example of R&D and concept development at work," said Stoeckel at the time.

Stoeckel told CSP Daily News late yesterday that the company will remove the equipment and canopy and convert the space back to parking.On his blog this week, Stoeckel added, "Not every experiment breeds a formula for success. But it's these instances that lead to valuable lessons learned and often create future innovation." (Click here to read the blog.)

Wawa operates 560 stores in five East Coast states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia).