Two weeks ago, the Pennsylvania-based convenience chain Wawa Food Market was featured in SN.
As was mentioned in this space then, Wawa is seeking to differentiate itself by focusing on - what else - convenience. In Wawa's instance, that means considering whether certain slow-turning grocery items should remain in the stores at all, or, if so, they should be sold by the single unit instead of large packs.
The intent is to liberate space to offer higher-volume categories such as salty snacks and drinks, as well as items for immediate consumption such as sandwiches and coffee.
The concept is that there are so many sources for commodity items that convenience stores shouldn't be in that business, especially since profit levels tend to be low on such products. So the trend is that it is becoming more of a source for convenience foods, in the manner of a fast feeder, and less like a small grocery store. Service is important in such a setting.
As it happens, Wawa reaped a huge crop of favorable publicity in the consumer press at just the same time it was being profiled in SN, that publicity appearing in the form of a feature in the July 30 issue of the New York Times [Sunday] Magazine. (The Times' profile and the date of its appearance are entirely unrelated to SN's profile of the chain.)
The Times profile, titled "Convenience Cult?," points out that on two websites, Wawa has gained quite a following. One website, MySpace.com, has a group of about 5,000 Wawa fans and another, LiveJournal.com, has 950 members. There are others too. As the article mentions, the odd thing is that these groups are centered around a fairly utilitarian form of business - a convenience store - not a high-profile band, video game or the like.
And, the article postulates that personalized and friendly service showered on Wawa patrons by its workers may be at the root of this devotion. That's the conclusion of Neeli Bendapudi, an Ohio State University marketing professor who studied the stores as part of a project about the effect of service on retail brands. It goes on to say that Wawa's hiring practices emphasize the selection of friendly workers.
Moreover, those hired are trained in Wawa methods at the Wawa Corporate University and employees are reimbursed for college courses they take. The result is lower turnover and hundreds of applications for every vacancy at Wawa.
Here's the chief conclusion: "Bendapudi argues that if a convenience chain can pull this off, plenty of companies [could] benefit from investing in service rather than in ever-bigger marketing campaigns. If fewer disgruntled employees leads to more satisfied customers, 'we'll all be happier people,' she says. And what advertising campaign has ever done that?"
We can draw a couple of conclusions of our own from this. One is that the Internet potentially provides a medium for the experience of every patron of a business to be broadcast to the world, so it's important that it's good. Second, and more important, there can be no doubt that good service will engender more patronage and repeat patronage, while poor service will drive away all customers but those with no choice in shopping venues.