“We look for associates who have a passion for serving customers,” says Mark Hasting, COO of the West Des Moines, Iowa-based company. “We hope that they’ll connect with our customers and get to know their favorite brands and buying habits.”

This sort of relationship building is enhanced by the physical design of each new store, as checkout counters are placed at the front of every 5,000-square-foot model, making it easy for employees to greet customers as they walk in. “Our associates enjoy building relationships with customers because, in many cases, they’re seeing the same person multiple times a week,” he adds. “Kum & Go is often a part of our customer’s daily routine, so we want them to feel like a special guest in our store.”

Growing its Brand

Although customer service is a big differentiator for Kum & Go, other attributes also help the company stand out in the competitive convenience store segment. The company recently introduced “Go Fresh Market,” an expanded selection of breakfast items, fresh pizza, hot and cold sandwiches and bakery items.  These items are prepared onsite daily in customer-facing kitchens, Hasting notes.

The “Go Fresh Market” concept is the centerpiece of the company’s new 5,000-square-foot store design. Roughly 25 percent of the company’s 423 stores feature expanded food and grocery sections, including displays dedicated to healthier products such as freshly cut fruits and vegetables.  Kum & Go opened 43 new stores in 2012, with 21 new locations opening in 2013.  

Keeping up with this growth and hiring people with a passion for service is sometimes a challenge, notes Hasting.  “We have a high bar set when recruiting potential associates,” Hasting adds.  The company uses an online recruitment portal to help stores find, select and hire the best candidates. 

Many of the company’s recruits are referred by existing employees or are regular customers at Kum & Go. Associates also hand recruiting cards out in the community to bring in potential hires. Once on board, Kum & Go’s associates are given extensive training to develop skills and support advancement within the company. “It’s paramount for us that we empower and retain our associates,” says Hasting.  “Many of our associates have dedicated several years of service to Kum & Go and have created powerful personal connections with their customers,” Hasting says.

Relationships with vendors are also critical to Kum & Go’s operations. The company’s senior leadership team regularly hosts “Top to Top” meetings with the leaders of many of its biggest business partners, he adds.  The convenience retailer also hosts an annual partner summit for vendors to learn about Kum & Go’s organizational and marketing strategies.

Breaking the Stigma

Kum & Go’s new stores clearly demonstrate the company’s dedication to sustainability. All of the company’s new, 5,000-square-foot stores feature energy-efficient features such as LED lighting, low-flow fixtures and recycling bins at pumps in select markets. 

Kum & Go is the first and only convenience store in the United States to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Volume Program.

“We build more sustainable stores because it’s the right thing to do, and we want to be a good neighbor,” Hasting says. “In some neighborhoods, there’s a negative stigma surrounding convenience stores, but we want to be known for having bright and clean stores that make a positive impact in all of our communities.”

Kum & Go also contributes to its communities by giving 10 percent of its profits to charitable causes. For example, in the past year, the company has made generous donations to the United Way and to the American Red Cross.

Past and Future

Many of Kum & Go’s community-minded philosophies originate with its founders, William A. Krause and Tony S. Gentle, who founded the company in 1959 in Hampton, Iowa. Today, it is the fifth-largest privately held, company-operated convenience store chain in the United States, with locations in 11 states. Kyle Krause, William A. Krause’s son, is the current president and CEO. 

“Our founders ran and operated the company as a small, family-owned business and were very entrepreneurial and skilled at recognizing and appreciating members of their Kum & Go family,” Hasting says. “As the company grows, we want to continue to feel like a small company while developing the tools and resources that allow us to stay connected to all of our associates.”

The company is working to enhance its internal processes in a number of ways. It is investing in Falcon wireless handheld devices to ensure correct inventory counts and improve ordering, utilizing interactive point-of-sale tools that enhance suggestive selling, and establishing an enterprise “help desk” to create a single point of contact.

Other initiatives include implementing a “Playbook” specific to each store to capture all activities and tasks in a central place. “The Playbook is a tool to help managers operate their stores with consistent execution,” adds Hasting.  Communication boards are also being updated and each board will be branded with the company’s vision statement: “to be the No. 1 convenience store in the country in 2021,” Hasting says.

An internal employee recognition program is also being enhanced. “Our founders were very good at acknowledging and honoring the work their associates were doing,” Hasting says. “We’re trying to build a similar recognition program that allows associates to recognize outstanding service and effort.”

Kum & Go also continues to improve the customer experience. “We do a lot of things well, but there is always room for improvement. We want to lead by example and become the best convenience store in the industry,” he adds. “We know we don’t live in a static world and we must keep learning and evolving in the convenience store space.”  O