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PHOTO GALLERY: GetGo Drives Convenience Forward

The retailer's new drive-thru location provides a convenient option for customers on the move.
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GetGo drive-thru in Mentor, Ohio

MENTOR, Ohio — Drive-thrus have been a part of the American landscape since the 1920s, although they initially involved carhops delivering food. The first modern drive-thru concepts appeared in California about a decade later and by the 1970s, they overtook drive-in restaurants in number.

While a few convenience store chains have incorporated the concept into their branding since their founding — such as drive-thru grocery market Swiss Farm Stores — this ode to the automobile has still largely remained the domain of quick-service restaurants.

That's changed over the last few years with large scale c-store retailers like Wawa Inc. and RaceTrac Inc. starting to invest in drive-thru concepts more seriously. And now, you can add Giant Eagle Inc.'s GetGo Café + Market chain to this select group.

This year, GetGo opened its first drive-thru built from the ground up in Mentor, Ohio. The grand-opening celebration on Feb. 2 featured live music, giveaways, raffle drawings, food and beverage samples, and celebrity appearances including Ohio football legend Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns serving as a guest team member on drive-thru duty.

Considering GetGo's focus on fresh food, this move seemed only natural, according to Brandon Daniels, the retailer's public relations manager.

"From a business standpoint, we take a food-first approach, meaning we put a high priority on our fresh food and our delicious made-to-order menu. One look inside our kitchens and you'll see that we take our role as a restaurant seriously," he said. "We like to say that we're a restaurant first, and that we also happen to have a convenience store and sell fuel."

GetGo is sensitive to its guests' needs, particularly when it comes to creating a more convenient dining experience for customers who may be looking for a quicker option, especially when dealing with outside demands such as carpooling with kids or avoiding unexpectedly nasty weather.

The site of this new store was also advantageous. It is situated next to the parking lot of a Giant Eagle supermarket and is sandwiched between high-traffic roads.

"We saw a unique opportunity to ... capitalize on the heavy vehicle traffic in this area," Daniels said. "In addition to those who make this GetGo their destination, we get additional guests stopping by after a grocery shopping trip and those who make an impulse stop when driving by."

Though the Mentor store is technically the second GetGo drive-thru in the region — an earlier remodel added one to an existing location — it is the first to incorporate the option directly into its initial design. This meant GetGo needed to make some adjustments to its usual store layout.

"The entire store is a bit smaller to allow room for the drive-thru lanes. As such, the center store is a bit smaller than what you'll typically find at our other GetGo Café + Market locations," said Daniels, noting that this location is 4,200 square feet and has six fuel pumps.

A smaller store, however, doesn't mean fewer options. GetGo's full made-to-order menu is available to drive-thru guests, as well as a selection of store products, packaged beverages, snacks and food that can be ordered via touchscreen kiosks. If a customer can't find a specific item on the drive-thru's kiosk, they can ask the team member manning the window to retrieve it for them.

Meanwhile, walk-in guests still have access to a fully stocked store, along with the retailer's newest beverage offerings. In February, GetGo announced the completion of a chainwide upgrade to its coffee program with the installation of new bean-to-cup coffee machines and the introduction of nitro and cold brew coffees.

While the company continues to evaluate the execution of this drive-thru concept, the initial customer response has been positive, with guests appreciating the added convenience.

Even with GetGo taking a cautious approach to the new venture, the retailer sees plenty of potential, with many of the stores already planned in the future for Ohio incorporating drive-thrus into their initial designs.

"Our plan is to continue testing this drive-thru concept at more of our new stores as we continue to grow and expand throughout the region. We have many locations in development throughout Ohio that will be opening in the next two years. Many of them were designed to include a drive-thru, just like the one at the store in Mentor," Daniels said.

And the Pittsburgh-based chain isn't just focusing on the Buckeye State for expansion. GetGo is "actively growing" with several new stores in development, he reported, while setting plans for additional stores in its current markets and working on plans to enter new markets.

"We also have some exciting growth plans for our car wash division, WetGo," Daniels added. "We opened our first standalone WetGo location in Castle Shannon, Pa., in April and we have several new locations opening this year in Pennsylvania and Ohio."

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