How Wawa Used Focus Groups to Build a Better Hoagie

Focus groups are a commonly used tool that almost every successful business uses in some way. In it’s most simplistic way a focus group is asking someone what their opinion is about something. The business then takes action based upon the feedback they received.

How Wawa used Focus Groups To Build the Perfect Hoagie

First, we’re not saying that Wawa has a perfect hoagie. My Italian friends would smack me if I brought Wawa hoagies over for lunch. Their hoagies are in most people’s opinion “good.” That’s GOOD – not great, not awesome, not mouth watering just good. And for a company like Wawa “good” is perfect. Imagine having a business that serves millions of unique people a year and the vast majority thought your product was “good.” For a Brand, that’s awesome.

According to the book The Wawa Way, Wawa wanted to introduce hoagies in their stores. Hoagies are a staple of the expanded Philadelphia region where Wawa was mainly based and it always makes sense to sell popular products that will draw people into your store. To do this, Wawa interviewed a series of focus groups of about 20 people in each group.

Wawa found out that people were really loyal to their favorite hoagie shop. They liked the meat being sliced in front of them. Watching it being assembled. Telling them whether the lettuce was added first or last.

But then Wawa asked the most important question – What Don’t you like at your favorite hoagie shop?

Negative feedback is often the most powerful tool to build a better mousetrap. And that’s exactly what Wawa was doing. They weren’t inventing the hoagie. They were improving the average hoagie.

They got response like “Sometimes they run out of rolls”, “The rolls aren’t fresh”, “The meat isn’t always fresh”, “It’s only good when a certain person makes it”. That feedback is what Wawa used to build their version of the better hoagie.

Wawa has the perfect assimilated hoagie. No matter what store you go into each hoagie is made and tastes nearly identical. A fresh roll (now baked in store), the same amount of fresh meat, cheese, lettuce, etc all assembled the same way based upon the toppings you select. The cheese is on the bottom, the seasonings on top and everything laid out in the same order from top to bottom. The process is so assimilated that today you order it from a Kiosk touch screen. If you’re very particular you can still talk to someone, but for most people the basic way the hoagies is made and selections are fine. And the hoagie comes out…good. Everything is fresh. You’re not getting a ton of meat and cheese, but you’re not getting skimped by any means either. You’re getting a good hoagie. Good spreads positive word of mouth and keeps people coming back.

Why Wawa makes “good” makes become “great”

You walk into a Wawa, go to the Kiosk and order. While you’re waiting you pick up a soda and chips, get in line, pay and go back to the counter to collect your completed hoagie. You’re in and out of Wawa in less than 5 minutes. Your local busy hoagie shop takes 15 minutes for the same experience. When you’re in a rush or have a short lunch break “good” becomes “great.”

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