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- 2013 - July - 19th -

CBRE broker vets Jacksonville sites for Wawa convenience-store chain

by Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

It seems logical to expect the Philadelphia-based Wawa convenience store chain will expand into Jacksonville.

While there's no timeframe, Jacksonville retail real estate broker Collis McGeachy is prepared to help.

CBRE Inc., the global commercial real estate services firm, represents the Central Florida site searches for the privately owned Wawa chain, which is on its way to open 100 stores in five years in the Orlando and Tampa markets.

McGeachy, a senior vice president of CBRE in Jacksonville, is handling site inquiries for Wawa in Northeast Florida in the event the chain's plans turn north.

"I'm here to answer questions for them and keep sites on file," he said. Every three months or so, "I have somebody who submits something."

McGeachy said he expects he will represent Wawa when it becomes serious about the area market, considering he is responding on the company's behalf regarding local site inquiries.

Wawa would be entering a busy market. Jacksonville-based Gate Petroleum Co. and First Coast Energy, which operates Daily's stores, continue to add stores. 7-Eleven Inc. and The Pantry Inc., which runs Kangaroo Express stores, also are adding and renovating locations.

Those are in addition to the other branded gas stations with convenience stores.

If and when Wawa decides to enter the Northeast Florida market, McGeachy said he would update the identified sites already submitted and start the review and tour process.

He said Wawa started looking at the Florida market 21/2 to 3 years ago.

The chain, based in the Wawa area of suburban Philadelphia, operates more than 600 stores in six East Coast states and began expanding in Florida a year ago.

McGeachy said CBRE represents Wawa in the Orlando and the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater markets in Wawa's plans to open 100 stores in those markets in five years.

McGeachy said Wawa is focusing on expansion along the Interstate 4 corridor. At some point, he thinks it would start considering sites north and south along I-95 and I-75.

He said when he asks about Wawa heading north, he's told to "just sit tight."

As of May 8, Wawa operated 17 stores in Florida and planned to open 14 more by the end of the year, all in Orlando and Tampa.

It plans to open 25 more there next year, ending 2014 with 56 stores.

Each store employs more than 35 people.

Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said Wednesday that Thursday was the first anniversary of Wawa opening in Orlando.

"At this time, we don't have any stores under construction in Jacksonville," she said. "I can't confirm anything not under construction, but am happy to keep you posted as things progress."

According to the wawa.com site, the company employs 18,000 associates.

The site says Wawa created a "fresh, new look for Florida."

"This brand new store design includes our upscale, state-of-the-art store features, but has a special new look just for Florida," it said.

Wawa said design principles include visibility to food service through glass (floor to high ceilings); colors, materials and textures that complement the look and feel of the "Sunshine State"; attention to building design, lighting and landscaping; a focal point of the kitchen area, featuring food service, fresh beverages and the fresh express case; natural light, modular displays and shelving for an open, uncluttered look; and warm Florida materials and colors.

Wawa, as a privately held company, does not publicly release financial information. Employees can qualify to earn Wawa stock through an employee stock ownership program. Employees own about 29 percent of the company.

Wawa said it does not confirm site locations until construction begins; saying site approvals can take several months. It does not franchise stores.

The Wawa website provides site selection criteria for its stores, including:

• A preferred lot of about 2 acres for the standard building size of 4,000 to 6,000 square feet of space, parking for 50-60 cars and space for eight multiproduct fuel dispensers. Other size sites might be considered, but none less than 1 acre.

• The locations should feature adequate nearby residential population to support retail sales; a nearby daytime population that includes employment centers, retail, office and commercial traffic generators; and a minimum traffic count of at least 25,000 vehicles a day with access to the site.

• It prefers a freestanding location at a corner at a signalized intersection, outparcels and pads at shopping centers, and other sites with a high-traffic volume.

• Wawa will consider purchasing or leasing the property. Site acquisition will be contingent upon receiving all approvals to construct and operate the proposed Wawa Food Market and gasoline facility.

Wawa Inc. began in 1803 as an iron foundry in New Jersey. Wawa.com said that toward the end of the 19th century, owner George Wood took an interest in dairy farming and the family began a small processing plant in Wawa, Pa., in 1902.

The milk business was a success due to its quality, cleanliness and "certified" process, the site said.

As home delivery of milk declined in the early 1960s, Grahame Wood, George's grandson, opened the first Wawa Food Market in 1964 as an outlet for dairy products.

Today, Wawa offers fresh food service selection, including Wawa brands such as built-to-order hoagies, freshly brewed coffee, hot breakfast sandwiches, built-to-order hot, iced and frozen specialty beverages, and soups, hot sides and snacks.

More than 300 of the more than 600 convenience retail stores offer gasoline.

Most stores are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

kmathis@baileypub.com

@MathisKb

(904) 356-2466

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