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How Wawa is bridging retail and tech with in-store apps

An innovative opportunity at the Delaware County-headquartered convenience brand finally gave technologist Kristin Kaempf a chance to help others.

A convenient place to grow your tech career. (Courtesy Wawa)

This article is sponsored by Wawa and was reviewed before publication. Wawa is a Talent Pro client.

Twenty-three years ago, uninspired by small town life in central Illinois, app developer Kristin Kaempf was ready to shake things up.

“Send me anywhere,” she said to her recruiter. “You pick.” Soon thereafter, she was relocated to Philadelphia to work as a developer at the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

As Kaempf explored her new city, she quickly fell under Wawa’s convenient, comforting spell. Years later, after having kids and moving closer to its headquarters in Wawa, Pennsylvania (near Media), she applied for a job at the iconic convenience store brand and the rest is history.

Today, Kaempf is eight years into her role as a software development lead at Wawa. As such, she leads a team of engineers through the invention, development and delivery of custom, multi-platform internal apps designed to enhance efficiency and support associates in-store.

With approximately 1,000 stores in six states and DC, Wawa is one of the largest convenience store chains in the region. Since its establishment as a dairy farm and processing plant in 1902, with its first official store opening in 1964, Wawa has solidified itself as an innovative, tech-forward brand that provides boundless convenience for customers and growth opportunities for associates.

“When I came to Wawa, it was so much cooler [than my other dev jobs] because I could see my impact right away,” Kaempf said. “The work we do helps associates do their jobs better every day. That feels meaningful.”

Kristin Kaempf. (Courtesy Wawa)

While working at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, Kaempf honed her skills in Microsoft’s SharePoint software. That experience enabled her to transition seamlessly into her role of using SharePoint to create and connect an ecosystem of apps that make the lives of Wawa’s in-store associates both easier and more collaborative.

“The apps we create come directly from the needs of the associates,” Kaempf said. “They tell us what problems they need solved and we build the solution.”

One such app is Voice of the Associate — a platform where, using their headset microphone, associates can submit ideas or recommendations, in real-time, for new products, services or processes to improve efficiency and customer service. The app transcribes their ideas and submits it to the appropriate business department for consideration.

With the freedom and flexibility to build what is needed, Kaempf and her team are free to exercise creativity. And they not only use it for in-store logistics — such as the Vendor Deliveries/Out of Stock/New & Discontinued Items app, which tracks vendor delays and changes in stock — but for the good of the people that work there.

The Associate Assistance app is available for associate-led initiatives to help their co-workers and the community.

“My motivation to do the work is so much greater when I know I’m helping people,” Kaempf said.

Kaempf and her team have been prolific in their application engineering, with 54 apps in their ecosystem to-date. Some are more complicated than others, like their New Store/Remodel scheduling app which took months to build due to its more complicated data set. Others, like the Stores Crisis Schedule app and Neighborhood Schedules app that track which stores are open during a storm or other crisis, and what neighborhood events will affect staffing needs, respectively, were built iteratively, and therefore were put into use more quickly.

“We improve the apps as we see how they are used by staff,” she said. “They give us feedback and we iterate. We’re able to go the extra mile and fully customize everything we build.”

The combination of building innovative custom technology and working for a brand that “feels like family,” is what Kaempf said makes Wawa special. And although she’s in the minority as a female technical lead, Kaempf said she has never been made to feel like her gender differentiates her at Wawa.

“We’re all empowered to pave our own paths,” she said. “It’s an inventive environment. There’s a lot of leeway to innovate, and to see those ideas come to fruition.”

Learn more about working at Wawa

Companies: Wawa

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