Wawa threatening to disrupt 7-Eleven’s convenience store dominance in Philly

The Delco-based chain has massively ramped up its urban presence.

Miguel Martinez / Billy Penn

Across Pennsylvania, Wawa’s rivalry with Sheetz is famous. In Philadelphia proper, however, the Delco-based chain battles a different competitor.

The brand with the most convenience stores in the city is 7-Eleven. It’s been the Philly market leader for over a decade — but Wawa is closing in.

As of May 2019, 7-Eleven maintains 55 outposts inside the city limits. Wawa currently operates 44 Philly stores, with more on the way.

That’s a big switch from the turn of the millennium, when Wawa famously “jilted Center City,” and began closing down urban storefronts as it pivoted to gas station-enhanced branches in suburban areas.

In 2008, when Wawa shut down the popular store at 20th and Locust, the number of goose-emblazoned outposts downtown could be counted on one hand. That Rittenhouse location was subsequently scooped up by 7-Eleven, part of an “accelerated growth plan” for the Slurpee king. By 2014, the Japan-based global chain reportedly had a dominant 72-store presence in Philly.

But over the past five years, the trend has reversed.

Bringing love back to the city

Wawa’s scheme to return to Philadelphia was voiced by CEO Chris Ghysens in 2015, when he announced a forthcoming Broad and Walnut location. “We have re-evaluated our position in Center City,” he said. Ghysens reiterated the brand’s commitment to Philly last year at the unveiling of the largest Wawa ever, the flagship store at 6th and Chestnut near Independence Mall.

Next to launch will be a “tiny Wawa” near 16th and Chestnut, adding to an influx of city grid stores that are often laughably close to one another.

The most obvious example is just southeast of City Hall. There’s a Wawa at Broad and Walnut; another outpost one diagonal block away at 13th and Chestnut; and a third location one more diagonal block that direction at 12th and Market.

This proximity is not by chance, according to Ghysens. Because the Broad and Market store was so popular it was getting overcrowded, Wawa looked for nearby real estate that could help relieve the burden, he said.

“We look at studies on walking patterns — kind of like traffic pattern studies — that tell us, yes, this corner will catch many of the same people,” Ghysens explained to Billy Penn at the launch of yet another new store at 9th and South in April.

As for 7-Eleven, it’s still on a growth push — there are now more than 65,000 stores in 17 countries around the world — but in Philly, not so much. (The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Map: Convenience store battle in Philly

Wawa’s spread across the city generally mirrors that of 7-Eleven. Here’s a look at their respective infiltration:

Wawa vs. 7-Eleven by the numbers

No. of U.S. stores

Wawa: 840
7-Eleven: 9,340

Total employees

Wawa: 22,000
7-Eleven: 45,000

Annual revenue

Wawa: $12 billion
7-Eleven: $61.5 billion

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