OPINIONCompany News

Following a Leader

How Kyle Krause moved Kum & go forward
Photograph by W. Scott Mitchell

CHICAGO -- Like most of you, I returned from this year’s NACS Show in Las Vegas inspired, excited … and exhausted. Luckily, the hours I spent soaking my feet in bath salts gave me time to reflect on what I had just experienced.

There was an air of fresh innovation and invigoration on the show floor this year—something beyond the usual line extensions and packaging changes. Many exhibitors stretched outside their comfort zones, sometimes smoothly, other times awkwardly.

On the other side of the coin, many of the retailers I spoke to said they were looking for solutions rather than just a hot new

product. They talked about meeting new consumer needs, ones inspired by demographic preferences, healthier attitudes and, yes, the disruption that has most retailers reconsidering what they once thought “convenience” meant.

The combination of these efforts didn’t always add up to success. For every round hole retailers were trying to fill, there were dozens of square pegs that led to even more questions: Is that new loyalty program a step forward for me? Should I really consider cannabinoid products? Just how many alternatives to carbonated soft drinks do I need to stock to meet customers’ needs? And where am I supposed to put them all?

Go Your Own Way

Having covered the convenience-store industry for nearly 20 years, I realize it’s not easy being a retailer. That’s why it’s always exciting to recognize one who makes it look effortless. Kyle Krause and his Kum & Go c-store chain is one of those retailers. As chairman and CEO of family-owned Kum & Go, Krause took the wise—in retrospect, but unexpected at the time—steps necessary to move the company forward. CSP honored Krause as its Retail Leader of the Year during a formal dinner at the NACS Show. The dinner happened to come exactly a decade after Krause’s father, Bill Krause, was honored with the same award.

As Angel Abcede explains insightfully in our December cover story, both father and son were instrumental in moving Kum & Go forward in their own way. Tellingly, it was Kyle’s change of direction for the chain that stands out as his most significant contribution.

Bill grew the chain from 134 stores in 1989 to 430 two decades later, driven primarily by acquisitions. When Kyle took over as president and CEO, he embraced a new strategy built on bringing consistency to an odd-duck collection of stores, improving foodservice and building in-store sales.

Kum & Go’s change of direction under Kyle Krause ensured its success.

At the time, several longtime employees questioned if the change of direction was the right thing for the company. About 10 years later, Kum & Go’s revenue has doubled and foodservice has gone from 4% of inside sales to 20%. It occurred even as total store count has dipped to about 400 stores.

This success is due to Kyle’s innate love of data and maybe the lifetime of lessons he learned from watching his dad and his grandfather run the company.

That’s the kind of vision retailers need to embrace as they ponder solutions to their retail needs. A decade from now, those with the proper foresight will be celebrated for taking their category or an entire chain to a new level. It’s also the kind of vision the industry needs to deal with the disruption coming from all angles.

My congratulations to Kyle Krause for choosing wisely and earning the title of CSP’s 2018 Retail Leader of the Year. And a quick note to his son, Tanner Krause, who recently was named president of Kum & Go: You have some big shoes to fill, but some awesome footsteps to follow in.

Steve Holtz is content director of Winsight’s Convenience Group. Reach him at sholtz@winsightmedia.com.

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