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Sneak peek: Wawa opening first standalone drive-thru location in Bucks County on Friday

By Laura Smythe – Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal
Jan 7, 2021, 5:43pm EST

Wawa is taking to Bucks County on Friday to open the first standalone drive-thru-only convenience store in its footprint that includes more than 900 locations.

The 1,800-square-foot store at 549 W. Trenton Ave. in Morrisville will boast a single-lane drive-thru that has a capacity for 12 cars at a time. The location will operate daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It will employ about 30 people.

Menus, available on digital boards as well as on mobile devices via scannable QR codes, include bundle deals like a Breakfast Sizzli and coffee for $4.29; a $7.99 lunch combo consisting of a shorti hoagie, choice of side such as mac and cheese or soup, and a large soft drink; and build-your-own dinner combos of pasta with a protein and vegetables or a bowl ranging from $6.99 to $8.99. The popular chain’s newest menu items, like burgers and fries, will also be available (burgers hit the menu daily at 4 p.m.).

The Falls Township location has been in the works since March, said Terri Micklin, director of construction at Wawa. While drive-thrus had been a strategy on the Media company’s radar before Covid-19 hit, the pandemic “acted as a catalyst to accelerate that going forward.” The Trenton Avenue property had already been zoned and approved for a quick-service restaurant with a drive-thru, so Wawa was able to open the store quickly.

The Morrisville spot was pinpointed for the brand’s first drive-thru-exclusive store because of its ability to hit the market quickly coupled with a strong, established customer base in the Falls Township area, Micklin noted.

A Wawa store typically ranges from about 5,800 to 6,000 square feet. The new location, which Micklin added sits on about three-quarters of an acre of developable land, clocks in at less than half of that traditional size. Buildout costs ran about $2 million, similarly less than 50% of the costs of a standard shop.

“It allows us to get greater density and put these in different places and could create a lot of opportunities for our growth strategies going forward,” Micklin said. More businesses are looking at this type of property as a result of Covid-19, she added, noting the retail industry has “seen a shift where customers are looking for more contactless approaches” during the pandemic.

Wawa opened its first location with a drive-thru on Dec. 18 at 570 Rancocas Road in Westampton, New Jersey. Over the next 12 to 18 months, the chain is planning to add between five and 10 drive-thru-specific locations throughout its footprint, which encompasses Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C.

Whether those new potential locations will be standalone drive-thrus or new shops outfitted with a drive-thru component is still being determined, and will that decision will be informed as the chain uses the Westampton and Falls Township locations to get a pulse on how the format performs, Micklin noted. Since the Westampton store opened, the location has continued to update its menu in response to customer feedback. Some of the most popular items ordered at the drive-thru include burgers, fries and specialty beverages.

Aside from the forthcoming new drive-thru stores, Wawa is planning to add about 60 new locations throughout its territory in 2021, Micklin said. The company is leaning into adopting drive-thrus in an effort to increase convenience and accessibility in response to evolving customer demands, she added.

In an effort to similarly achieve that goal, the chain quickly expanded delivery and curbside into all of its stores by the end of 2020, said Alex Costabile, vice president of strategy. There are some exceptions, such as some Philadelphia locations that don’t have a parking lot, making it difficult to orchestrate curbside pickup.

When the pandemic hit, curbside pickup was primarily in a pilot program phase and delivery was available at roughly 25% of locations, Costabile added. A few months into Covid-19, delivery demand tripled and Wawa expanded its third-party delivery partnerships throughout the year to include DoorDash, UberEats, Postmates and Grubhub.

Delivery revenue increased more than 700% year-over-year from 2019 to 2020, Costabile said. Meanwhile, over 10% of all mobile app orders, which allow customers to order and pay ahead of time, are now for curbside pickup.

“One of the key things we want to be is available to our customers in any way that they want,” Costabile noted.

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