business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails responding to Kate McMahon's column yesterday about convenience stores.

MNB reader David Warrick wrote:

Sheetz and Wawa both have good C-Stores, however, they have a ways to go to match Buc-ees in Texas.

They are 30K+ Sq. Ft. in size, large full service deli, hot/cold tables, large Men/Women (50+ stall) restrooms, and over 100 pumps.  Some weekends need a traffic cop to assist access.

My wife was on assignment outside of Portland Oregon, one of the employee’s was having a family reunion in Texas her first stop on the Texas bucket list was Buc-ees!

MNB reader Tim Callahan wrote:

Wawa has the magic.  I am addicted.  I stop at least twice a day: coffee, soft pretzels, hoagie and FREE ATM.  All on my Wawa app.

From another MNB reader:

Enjoyed reading your summary of “the drive home” after a child’s 4 years in college. (Congrats on your raise; mine is still a few years away, regrettably..)  I undertook a similar drive about 2 weeks ago, through Texas.  While the convenience and gas (C&G) retailers on my journey are different, the in-store experience you described is very similar. RaceTrac has overtaken the “legacy” fuel stops (Murphy, Valero, Shell) as well as the national fast food chains.  QuickTrip and Loves have clean bathrooms (which is always a determinant if we’ll stop at any of these places in the future).

Few C&G retailers have a reason to build out private labels and charge as much for “cooler rental” to all the beverage vendors.  The exception is Sheetz & Wawa; they’ve earned the right.

I do wonder if a Lidl (with fuel) is the challenger Sheetz & Wawa needs to remain competitive, although as you point out, they are now starting to overlap each other.

MNB reader Gene Peace wrote:

Loved your column today on Sheetz and WaWa.   We have gotten WaWa's here in Florida in the past four years and I think the world of how they go to market.   The other area they seem to excel in is having really good people that are over the top capable and very pleasant.  I've probably made 50 visits and have never had a negative employee interaction.   Says a lot for how they train and treat their associates.   Having spent my entire life in retail sales and marketing, people are a determining factor for where I shop.

Also, congratulations to your daughter.  What a great feeling for her (and you)!

Another MNB reader isn't quite convinced:

I found your story about traveling to PA for your daughter’s college very similar to my own (except in this case,  I was the daughter in question). Five years ago, my family made the trip to Collegeville, PA from Asheville, NC to move me in for my freshman year. Being from the south, I never (and still don’t) understand the hype around Wawa.

When I moved in, the RAs told my parents that the best thing they could leave me was Wawa gift cards for the convenience store down the street. The Wawa in question didn’t have a gas station (it was less than a block away from a Hess/Speedway), but was within a half mile walk from the college campus. The Jersey/Pennsylvania residents are OBSESSED with that store. Compared to other convenience stores, I do understand that Wawa is superior. It’s always clean. I never had bad service. It was a breath of fresh air to grab a cup of fruit than a fruit roll up before a long drive to NC. Quite frankly though, I thought the sandwiches were gross with soggy bottoms and too much grease, and they always ran out of mashed potatoes by 7PM forcing me to get the less appealing Mac-n-cheese as a substitute.

Wawa is a great example of a good c-store and other gas stations should try to be more like them, but the food isn’t good enough to meet the hype surrounding it.

MNB reader Chris Esposito wrote:

In western NJ we have added competition from QuickChek.  Some of which even have pharmacies.  While only 140 locations, it dominates western NJ.  So traveling from home to say the farmer’s market in Easton on a Saturday, I have a choice of QuickChek, Sheetz and Wawa!  Although I usually stop at the QuickChek, as it is closer to home and I usually need that early morning coffee quickly and can’t wait until I’m in PA!

On the subject of the Walmart neighborhood Market that found Boulder, Colorado, to be culturally inhospitable enough that it is closing after less than four years, MNB reader Gregg Bagni wrote:

Bottom line? I live in the Boulder area and that Walmart Neighborhood Market closing? Biggest reason?

It was a crappy grocery store.


End of paragraph.

In the interest of making sure that Gregg's sentiments are accurately communicated, I should point out that he didn't actually say "crappy." He used a different word.


The other day an MNB reader wrote to suggest that when states and cities pass laws requiring things like the posting of calorie counts on menu boards, it is happening in states and cities that people are leaving because political leaders are engaging in self-righteous behavior out of synch with what real people actually want.

I disagree with the conclusion and refuted - at some length - the statement about places like New York and Los Angeles declining in population, which is simply, factually, untrue.

MNB reader Mark Delaney wrote:

I'm calling you on a "grumpy old man" commentary on Tuesday where you took over 10 paragraphs to reply to a two sentence opinion regarding calorie counts. I agree that the comments were controversial but the length you took to defend your position was the blogger equivalent of a beat down.

I think the "middle ground" here - if there is one - is that most would agree that posting a number next to a food item on a menu is nearly worthless without context - it's simply a "feel good" legislative check mark that elected officials can point to the next time they're up for re-election that costs businesses money. A smart retailer or restaurant might pick up where the regulations fall short and use it as a way to enable a conversation with their customers around healthy eating - thus far I haven't seen that.

Does the average person know how many calories a day is appropriate for their age, height and desired weight? Probably not. Does the average person know that a Whopper and a Big Gulp are not the healthiest choices - probably so. Will simply printing a number on that item change their choice? Doubtful - and I don't know that government was envisioned as playing that role by the founding fathers.

Ask the average person whether they're more concerned about the calorie count of their next Starbucks latte or whether the Goethals bridge will fall down when they drive over it later today and I think the latter will resonate more. Problem is it's "hard" to fix those problems and fixing infrastructure generally doesn't make headlines - thus the situation we're in today.

First of all, I'm perfectly willing to have a philosophical discussion about the calorie count posting issue. (And what the hell is going on with people thinking I'm old? I'm going to get a complex...)

But the original MNB reader wasn't making a "controversial" comment. He was making a factually incorrect statement. Did I go out of my way to deliver a bit of a beat-down? Maybe. That's certainly a fair criticism.

But at least it was a polite beat-down.

Here's the deal. I have lived my entire life in two metropolitan areas - New York and Los Angeles. (The latter only during college, but it is a place that I love.) When Mrs. Content Guy retires, we plan to move to another one - Portland, Oregon. While I think it is perfectly legitimate for people who live in much of the rest of the country to complain that coastal/urban elites do not pay attention to their priorities and needs - this is not only a legitimate complaint but often true - it is a mistake, I think, to dismiss out of hand the attitudes of the major coastal/urban population centers.

Of course, these disconnects not only exist, but pretty much define the nation's political/cultural/social/economic conundrum. So maybe we're just screwed. (Though I'd like to use a different word...)
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