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Business Brief: Wawa Convenience Stores To Enter Northeast Florida Market

wawa sandwich
Wawa via Instagram

If you’ve been to a  Northeast Florida gas station convenience store lately, most likely it was large and well-lit, with lots of food and drink choices. Gate, RaceTrac and Daily’s are big players in the local market, and they’re about to get some stiff competition as Northeastern chain Wawa prepares to enter the Jacksonville area.

As WJCT business analyst John Burr tells  News Director Jessica Palombo, these are not the traditional “Cokes and smokes” type of convenience stores we all saw in years past, but 4,000-to-6,000-square-foot mega gas stations where you can get freshly made food and do a quick grocery shopping trip.

Wawa, based out of Philadelphia, plans on opening 30 to 40 stores over time in Northeast Florida. The chain already has close 86 stories in Florida, having started its expansion in the Orlando area back in 2013.

Don Longo, the editorial director of trade magazine Convenience Store News, said Wawa is considered a “best in class” in the convenience store industry, with a top 5 ranking among U.S. chains.

What they really do well, and what they built a cult-like following on, is their fresh sandwiches, he said.

“They’re famous for their hoagies. Depending on what part of the county you’re in, it’s either a sub sandwich or a hero sandwich, but they’re called “hoagies” in Philadelphia, and they’re famous for that,” he said.  “They make them for you in the store right in front of you.”

Another thing that sets Wawa apart, according to Longo, is their innovative use of technology. For instance, they are about to launch an app that will allow customers to order food from the road and have a hoagie and soda waiting for them when they arrive.

Longo says convenience stores are growing in size to accommodate full food-service operations, something that wasn’t common at gas stations decades ago.

“Companies like Wawa that do food service well, they hire the type of people who are good for hospitality purposes. They’re not just people who stock shelves. These are people who know how to take care of guests,” he said.

The older, so-called “smokes and Cokes” convenience stores are getting hit hard, and also fast food and grocery store chains are feeling the competition. Burr says it’s hard to compete with a place where people can get their gas, their dinner and some grocery staples all in one stop.