(This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
If you live in the Mid-Atlantic part of the country, or even as far south as Florida, you know and love Wawa. It’s way better than 7-Eleven, and definitely better than Sheetz, although there are quite a few people who would debate that last point.
Wawa is a convenience store with over 900 locations across Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Florida. It sells everything from potato chips to bandaids. At Wawa you can get hoagies, paninis and quesadillas. You can buy milk, beer, energy drinks, soups, salads and bowls. You can get fruit salad, ice cream and Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets and if you don’t know what a Butterscotch Krimpet is, then you don’t know what you’re missing. All of these goodies are sold at Wawa, but really everyone goes to Wawa for the coffee.
If you don’t believe me, then just swing by any location between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., and you’ll see what I mean. The place is always bumping. The earlier crowd is mostly contractors and construction workers. As the morning progresses, it’s the office workers, school teachers and professional types. So what kind of coffee is their favorite?
Maybe it’s the French Vanilla or the Hazelnut. Or perhaps the Peanut Butter Fudge (not kidding), 100% Columbian or plain old Regular. Or Decaf. I’m sure the number crunchers at Wawa know exactly how much is being consumed. But all I know is that the coffee flows out of these self-service urns at a rate few can imagine, with bleary-eyed store employees constantly changing them out for fresh ones.
Some people say they prefer Wawa coffee over Dunkin Donuts or even (gasp!) Starbucks. It’s certainly cheaper. But none of this is important. In fact, whether one type of Wawa coffee tastes better than another isn’t the point of this essay. Wawa’s coffee is good, but that’s not the reason why the company sells so much coffee. It sells a lot of coffee because of its business model. And Wawa’s business model is built on three key pillars: price, choice and control.
I’ve never heard anyone say that something is “expensive” at Wawa. I’ve heard plenty of people complain about the price of a Starbucks latte, particularly if you’re unlucky enough to buy one in a hotel lobby. Wawa coffee is priced anywhere from $1.29 for the 12 oz to $1.65 for the 24 oz. Even in these inflationary times, all of its food is priced competitively. To succeed in a competitive market like this, you must find ways to keep your prices competitive. That’s another topic for another time.
The key to Wawa’s coffee success is, however, based on the other two pillars: choice and control. As mentioned above, there are multiple types of coffees to choose from. But it doesn’t end there. Once you pour your cup, you can then choose from any number of accompaniments. I counted five types of sweeteners and various milks and creams. There’s honey, cinnamon, cocoa and even lemon juice, which I’m hoping is for the tea drinkers. But basically, you can fix your coffee in any way you like.
And the key word in my last sentence is you. This brings me to the pillar of control. At Wawa, the customer is in control. We choose the prepared foods we want to buy. We punch in our orders for our sandwiches, customizing them any way we want. And when it comes to the coffee, we can make our cup exactly how we want it. We can fill it to the brim or halfway. We can add any number of goodies. We can even mix the regular French Vanilla with the Decaf Hazelnut if we so damn, please!
Even though my business is in a completely different industry, I like to use Wawa as my model. My firm doesn’t sell coffee. We provide technology and financial services. But, like Wawa, I work hard to keep my rates competitive. I offer the choice of various types of services. I give my clients control over how many hours they want us to spend on projects. Price, choice, control. I realize I’m not selling coffee. But aren’t most businesses the same, in the end?
So if you’re running a small business or thinking of starting a small business, take my advice: visit a Wawa. Visit a few. They’re all the same. Watch how they run. Notice the pricing, the choice and the control they give their customers. Do your best to emulate that. And while you’re at it, try a cup of the Hazelnut. That’s definitely the best cup. Now you know.