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Wawa’s Secret Weapon in Florida Expansion

WAWA, Pa. — When a convenience store retailer decides to grow organically — especially in a new state — plenty of research must be done to determine if the sites it selects will produce the best return on investment. Pennsylvania-based Wawa Inc., which is aggressively moving into Florida, knows how important this process is and enlists the help of a secret weapon: Esri software.

“As we expand into these locations, I don’t know how we would do it without having all of the information in our real estate manager’s hands to make those decisions and really bring sites to life,” said John Poplawski, senior director of site acquisition for Wawa.

Esri is a geographical information systems provider. Its software performs digital mapping that enables retailers to understand what’s happening in geography and why things happen where they do. The technology also incorporates its Tapestry proprietary software, which provides access to a variety of data in a given area, including demographics and lifestyle metrics. Retailers can create their own data to determine traffic counts, broker data and more, Gary Sankary, retail subject matter expert at Redlands, Calif.-based Esri, told CSNews Online

“We’ve recently began making full use of the Esri product,” said Laura Linton, location analytics specialist at Wawa. “We chose the product because there are really no competitors that have the breadth and functionality that Esri’s products do. It enables us to do ‘heavy’ analytics in the office.”

Tapestry allows Wawa to summarize attitudinal data, age, sex, income and more. “It summarizes everything at the block group level to really help you understand the type of customer in the area [in which we are considering opening a new store],” Linton explained. “We are able to take that data and pair it with our internal segmentation data to assign profitability to those customers.”

Wawa also likes the Esri product because it enables the retailer’s entire real estate staff to be mobile — out in the field, on their iPads and iPhones, Poplawski added. 

“There are very few other applications that give the functionality that Laura described,” he said. “With the Esri software loaded on these devices, it really gives them a one-stop view of existing Wawa stores, sites they are considering, and a view of competitors.” 

Thanks to the software, Wawa can better determine if it should build a new store at a particular intersection based upon understanding how far it is from the next site it is considering, traffic counts and demographics.

“In Florida, the entire real estate team was able to look at this information as it did its preliminary site ride to build a network plan well before we ever met with any brokers, developers or anybody in fact, and have a game plan when entering the market,” said Poplawski.

And even beyond the data it culls, he believes Esri’s greatest strength is the speed-to-market it gives Wawa, a chain of 700-plus convenience stores.

“It really allows us to network a market much more quickly than we ever have. It puts all of the data we need to make site-level decisions in one place, which allows leadership to have conversations in the field with real estate managers and come to decisions much more quickly than we ever would have in the past,” Poplawski said. “If you look at Florida and how quickly we entered that market, Esri clearly played a role.”

Esri's Sankary dubbed Wawa a “star performer” as the chain is clearly getting the most out of the platform.

“Wawa is so good at execution. It has done a tremendous job of gathering, consuming and executing based on the information it receives in real-time. That is how the platform was designed to work at its best,” he said. 

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