a gas station

Wally's world, Fresh Thyme's wink at Target?

A road trip inspired a stop at a destination fuel station called Wally's and highlighted a Fresh Thyme billboard that could be throwing shade at a Target store brand.
Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
Dan Ochwat profile picture

During a recent holiday road trip, I spotted two incredible Interstate finds — a billboard that could be directed at Target and a destination fuel station that’s like the Target of travel stops.

First, the billboard, which I apologetically didn’t snap a photo of while driving due to rules of the road, grabbed my attention through both its beautiful images of mouthwatering food and also the tagline, “Gather What’s Good."

A facebook screenshot
Screenshot of Fresh Thyme Facebook page

The billboard was from Fresh Thyme, a grocer with around 70 stores in the Midwest, focusing on fresh and organic foods. Fresh Thyme also is using the tagline to support content on its Facebook page around holiday meals.  

If you haven’t picked up where I’m going with this yet, here’s my question: Is Fresh Thyme throwing subtle shade at Target and its Good & Gather brand?

It’s possible many consumers don’t quite know Good & Gather as a store brand of Target, although they clearly buy the product as it’s a $2 billion brand, one of the reasons why Store Brands magazine named Target its 2021 Retailer of the Year.

But for retail insiders, it sure seems like Fresh Thyme could be making a reference to Target’s own brand, possibly a slight nod to say, “we’re fresher and better.” What do you think?

On the same Interstate drive to grandma’s house we go, I spotted a big, bright orange travel stop in Pontiac, Ill., called Wally’s, and the experience was very special.

Currently, the gas station with an attached large retail and foodservice set up is a one-off, but looking for more partners, according to the website. Walking the world of Wally’s, the location certainly feels like a chain but it also feels like a retailtainment destination stop.

a van inside a store with merchandising

When entering the parking lot, a brightly lit sign, a nod to old drive-in signs, greets shoppers and prepares shoppers that you're not going to any standard fuel stop. Then, immediately after entering the doors, there’s a colorful mural to pose with and Wally’s asking for shoppers to take pictures and share on Instagram. Actually, throughout the store, the store invites shoppers to take pictures and share over Instagram, looking to build a relationship right off the bat.

Then, unexpectedly, shoppers are met with a hard goods section that looks like a department store. This isn’t Crack Barrel knicknacks, there’s a full-size Winnebago parked selling camping goods, there are winter blankets, high-quality apparel, home decor items, all sorts of gear for the outdoors, gift items and a large range of Wally’s namesake merch. Snow hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts, trucker hats and more have a fun look reflective of the store itself.

The home goods section then leads shoppers into a high-ceilinged brightly lit food area, where Wally’s serves up BBQ fare that’s freshly made and continually fed into hot tins for grab-and-go servings, but food can also be made to order. The brisket sandwiches, chicken tenders and more are supported by three unique areas, too. A jerky bar, where its fresh beef jerky can be ordered by the pound, a fresh popcorn department to fill up tins of popcorn and a fresh boiled peanuts station. 

Wally’s own brand packaged beef jerky is also given a dedicated wall in the store, near its packaged snacks, salads, sandwiches and treats. The cold vault has Wally’s brand bottled water in its unique green, yellow, orange and blue colors and there is a large alcohol section, with walk-in cooler and branded snacks area.

When being cooped up on the road, Wally's certainly lifts the spirits, and I didn't even get into the high-tech bathroom situation with sinks that have automated water, soap and dryers all in one sink. It's just an elevated experience all around from what travelers might be used to, like a Target road stop.

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