Ronnie Braverman is excited that he'll soon be able to pick up milk at the barn- and silo-shaped drive-through grocery store that's being built at Route 352 and Paoli Pike in East Goshen, but he's used to going to the Wawa next door out of "convenience and habit."
He stops at Wawa once a day; picks up a paper, a coffee, maybe milk on the way home from work; and usually runs into someone he knows. "It's almost like a ritual," said Braverman, 40, who three years ago moved to West Chester from Broomall, where Swiss Farm Stores are better known.
For zoning reasons, the East Goshen Swiss Farms will have a green roof instead of the traditional red one, but the company says it believes customers like Braverman will still recognize it and opt to shop from their cars.
Swiss Farms' second Chester County store, set to open in June, will sit directly next to a Wawa, part of another well-known convenience-store chain that expanded from Delaware County.
"You can't run from the 800-pound-gorilla, and that's what Wawa is," said Swiss Farms' director of operations, Rob Coldwell, 25, of West Chester.
Swiss Farms focuses on selling milk, bread, eggs, and other products that people run out of in between grocery-store trips. And while Wawa sells these and other products, Coldwell and chief executive officer Ed Costantini said that the two had coexisted within walking distance in Delco, and that Wawa - with its focus on gasoline and consumables - had a different market. (The Wawa in East Goshen doesn't sell gas, however.)
Still, Swiss Farms now offers fresh Italian food, prepared by Ristorante Primavera of Wayne, and customers like Braverman will face a choice.
"It all depends what I need," Braverman said, adding that he'll stop at Swiss Farms for milk, but not for a hotter beverage. "You can't get out of the car, and I don't like other people making my coffee."
Richard George, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University, said the companies differed - especially with Wawa shifting to selling gasoline - but existed for the same reason.
"We're time-starved. We want anything that's going to make our lives easier and simpler," George said.
Wawa has 27 stores in Chester County, 43 in Delaware County, and a total 565 in five states - 216 of which sell gasoline.
Swiss Farms' East Goshen store, at Paoli Pike and North Chester Road, will be its 13th.
"I think Swiss Farms can slide underneath the radar," George said, adding that a smaller organization could adjust quicker to changes in the market.
For Swiss Farms, the challenge may be spreading the word as it spreads out. While Costantini said that annual sales at the stores were more than $16 million, and that they were experiencing an 8 to 10 percent fix revenue growth annually, Swiss Farms' first Chester County store is taking some time to develop its base.
The Lionville Swiss Farms opened in April 2006 and brings in about 200 to 300 cars a day, fewer than half what the Delco stores average.
"We're ramping up," Coldwell said. "It takes a while to change people's habits, but once they get it, they're in."