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Tanner Krause: Relevance in Motion

In OLC’s Talks From the Top, Kum & Go leader speaks out about retail relevance, racial justice, more
President, Kum & Go
Photograph courtesy of Winsight

CHICAGO — Kum & Go’s retail strategy can be summed up in one word: “relevance.” And Tanner Krause, president of the Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience-store chain, is nothing if not relevant. In a new Talks From the Top conversation with a c-store industry leader for CSP’sOutlook Leadership Community, Mitch Morrison, vice president of retailer relations, chatted with Krause about the company’s business philosophy, the COVID-19 pandemic, new technology—and about racial and sexual equality and justice.

  • Click here to to join OLC and to watch Krause’s on-demand webinar.

Kum & Go, which generated $2.65 billion in sales in 2019, operates approximately 400 c-stores across 11 mostly Midwestern states. It is No. 18 on CSP’s 2020 Top 202 ranking of c-store chain’s by size. And it was among the first c-store chains to move into charging stations for electric vehicles. Despite gas margins being inflated because of the pandemic, and with many companies depending on them to get through a challenging time, Kum & Go still sees an opportunity of electric vehicles.

“It's important when you're running a company like ours, you've got to zoom out a little bit and you have to look and say, ‘At the most basic definition, what do we do and what do our customers value from us?’ Even gas is, to me, is a little bit too zoomed in,” said Krause. “So we back up and say, ‘We keep people going on the road.’ That's the role that we play in transportation is we allow those that are in motion to stay in motion, and that's selling them fuel and energy for their body and fuel and energy for their automobile.”

The retailer stays relevant by continuing to evolve its product mix inside and outside the store to meet the needs and trends of what customers are demanding, he said.

But Kum & Go’s relevance extends beyond retail and into the social space, and Krause and the family company he leads have not hesitated to speak out on issues such as racial and sexual equality and racial injustice. Acknowledging that OLC is an industry platform to discuss not only leadership and success but also other important issues, he said, “You have these thought leaders and you have an audience. … If you have this platform and if you have this privilege, then you have a right to go beyond just using it for self-serving means or using it for only business means.”

Kyle Krause, chairman and CEO of Kum & Go and Tanner’s father, was among the first industry leaders to issue a statement following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a police officer on May 25 in Minneapolis.

“The killing of George Floyd is the latest tragedy in a long history of violence against people of color,” the statement said. “Today, it is incumbent upon us all to make changes that will create a better country, and a better tomorrow. .... We all need to do our part. As the chairman and CEO of Krause Group, my family has had the privilege to be a part of the communities we serve for generations. We can do more. We must do more. … We will keep listening. We will keep raising our voices.”

The company also supports the LGBTQ community.  “The fact of the matter is there remains tremendous injustice and systemic oppression in America. Look at almost any metric and you see that whites have an advantage over people of color,” Tanner Krause said. “It's not just about race. Look at the LGBTQ population. Look at the differences in success metrics of life. Life expectancy, education, net worth, arrests, abuse, suicide. They're happening at much higher rates to our friends in the LGBTQ community.”

Kum & Go donated the money it had budgeted for Pride Week in the company's home base of Des Moines, Iowa, this year to two nonprofits, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and the Transgender Law Center’s Trans Agenda for Liberation.

“We don't view what we do as political statements. We view what we do as statements in support of humanity,” Tanner Krause said. “Why is equality not university supported? Why are these matters so divisive? What is it about us that has ingrained us to believe that life is a zero-sum game and that by lifting up our neighbors, our family members and our associates that have been oppressed for centuries that has to come at some expense of ours or even if it does come at an expense of ours, is it not worth that cost? Is it not worth that price to have a more equal society?”

“I look at someone as myself born into a tremendous amount of privilege, born white, born in the Midwest, born into a family business, born into a tremendous amount of wealth and opportunity. I'm motivated to leverage that opportunity, leverage that privilege to help those that didn't have the same head start that I have,” Krause said. “Coming out on these issues is important, and we use our platform and these are our beliefs. I'm going to assume that most listeners on your audience here also have platforms. I just want to encourage you to say, go out, advocate, reach out a hand, make a message, make a statement, stand up and support.”

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