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BALTIMORE -- As national chains look to go local and regional chains look to expand their borders, cities across the United States have become battlefields for convenience store competition. Now, it's Baltimore's turn.
Royal Farms, with 151 c-stores in four states, calls Charm City its home. However, the retailer now faces a landscape dotted with more Wawa Inc. stores and 7-Eleven Inc. locations. According to the Baltimore Sun, all three chains are in a race to build new stores, remodel existing ones, enhance their foodservice offerings and sell gasoline.
Royal Farms opened 12 new locations and rebuilt six last year, mostly in Baltimore and its suburbs. The c-store operator -- known for its fried chicken -- has nine new stores slated for construction this year, including six in Maryland, the newspaper reported.
"We're expanding and improving our brand depending on where real estate is available and where it makes sense for us to expand our footprint," said Ed Stronski, Royal Farms' marketing manager.
On the competitive front, Wawa is opening nearly 50 new stores this year in a six-state area including Maryland -- about a third more than last year. In addition, 7-Eleven embarked on a national push into urban areas, with plans to open up to a dozen new stores a year in the Baltimore area.
"People want more convenience and it just continues to escalate," said Jeff Lenard, vice president of industry advocacy at NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing. "The reason that you're seeing growth of convenience stores is…people are continually redefining convenience. It used to be all that meant was extended hours of operation, then it became about convenient locations."
Now, it's even more than that. Consumers want a one-stop spot to get gas, get money and get a meal. The new convenience stores are seen as more than a last resort to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner, he added.
"It's gone from desperation to destination," Lenard told the news outlet. "More [stores] are in the foodservice business and you know you can get a good meal. You're seeing where people expect some of the best places to possibly eat can be at a gas station."
To that point, Royal Farms is known for its chicken and Wawa for its build-to-order hoagies. In the past few years, 7-Eleven has even taken a step away from hot dogs toward ready-to-eat food items.
Locally based Royal Farms has stores in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa owns and operates more than 600 convenience stores, including 300 gas stations, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Florida.
Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. operates, franchises or licenses more than 10,110 7-Eleven stores in North America.