Unveiling the concept of the mega-mini-shop Wawa is calling the prototype its convenience store of the future.

Posted: January 12, 2002

MAYS LANDING, N.J. — Jake Glassey could hardly believe what he was seeing yesterday when he stopped for a cup of coffee at the new Wawa store near his home in Northfield.

Glassey had stepped into the opening ceremony for what Wawa is calling the prototype for its store of the future.

The new store has twice the square footage of the average Wawa, or of most other convenience stores. A 12-foot-high bay window stretches across the front of the building, giving a clear view of a 20-pump service station. The store is on a nine-acre site, and has parking space for 95 cars - both far more than at a typical Wawa.

The aisles also are wider, the lights are brighter, and the fresh-food counter is bigger. There is a 17-door wall of refrigerated units for cold drinks, five more than most stores have. And in a back corner, a lineup of coffee pots holds enough hot beverage to float a boat.

"I think it's wonderful," said Glassey, who owns a TV production company. "It's very open, and it's certainly easier to get around than in all the other Wawa stores I've been in.

"The parking is a lot better, too," he said. "In my neighborhood Wawa, parking is a problem. I'm surprised there haven't been wrecks in that parking lot."

The 7,400-square-foot store, at 4262 Black Horse Pike, has been open two weeks. But at yesterday's ceremony, Wawa executives cut a ribbon while the place was thronged with dozens of employees in straw hats.

A DJ played rock music in front of the store as employees offered customers pastries, fruit and bite-size hoagies.

Wawa executives said the size, appearance and amenities in the store, and the number of gas pumps and parking spaces outside, are the result of extensive market research and feedback from customers and employees. Wawa - which started in the dairy business 100 years ago and opened its first convenience store in 1964 - has been trying to steadily refine and expand what it offers customers, the company officials said.

"We've developed a pretty disciplined approach to research and development," said Howard B. Stoeckel, executive vice president of the company, which is based in Wawa, Delaware County. "We test products. We do focus groups to get customer feedback on what we're doing."

Inside, the wider aisles are designed to help customers find what they need and get in and out faster, Stoeckel said.

Employees and customers said "they needed more space, to showcase the products and to simplify the customer's life," he said. "They can see exactly what they're looking for. . . . They don't want to be on top of each other."

The expanse of blacktop and the lineup of gas pumps were carefully planned, too, he said.

Wawa operates 540 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and sells gasoline at more than 90 of them. Gas pumps will be included in most of the stores the company plans to open in the years ahead, Stoeckel said.

Customers also can expect to see the type of larger food-service counter in the Mays Landing store elsewhere. Wawa is studying whether to add hot, cooked meals to the made-to-order sandwiches and deli products it already sells, Stoeckel said.

Wawa's growth formula seems to be working. The privately held company was third in sales among food stores in the greater Philadelphia area, trailing only Acme Markets Inc. and ShopRite, according to the June 2001 survey of the industry by Food Trade News, a regional trade publication.

The publication estimated Wawa's sales at $1.2 billion in Philadelphia, its Pennsylvania suburbs, New Castle County, Del., and nine New Jersey counties from the Trenton area south.

Tom Belden's e-mail address is tbelden@phillynews.com.

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