BGBS 052: Tanner Krause | Kum & Go | We Must Be the Force of Change
Tanner Krause is the President of Kum & Go, a fourth-generation family-owned business headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa with 400 stores spanning 11 states. And boy, does he have a story for you. You’ll learn that Kum & Go is more than just a convenience store. On top of being a fun place with a die-hard fandom, the service mentality that the company embodies is exemplary, and you’ll be sure to feel Tanner’s passion through the mic as he expresses his mission to improve greater equality and kindness for humanity.
In this episode, we deep dive into Kum & Go’s history and learn how it all started out with a love story. Tanner also touches on crucial decisions that were made during each generation, including his own, that all impacted Kum & Go for the better. Overall, Tanner feels his greatest purpose is to ensure that his family and others are proud of Kum & Go for generations to come. To him, that means using his privilege and opportunity to be a force of change for the many forms of inequality America endures. That being said, how can you become a force of change, even in your own small way?
In this episode, you’ll learn…
- The name for Kum & Go came from the last names Krause and Gentle, named after Tanner’s grandfather and great-grandfather
- Tanner speaks fondly of his grandfather Bill Krause, a charismatic person with a gift of making people feel special and paying attention to detail, no matter how influential he became.
- Although the number of Kum & Go stores are smaller than they were in 2004, Tanner’s father Kyle ensures that the chain of stores left were rebuilt, ensuring a continuity of quality and improving the financial health of the company
- At Kum & Go, the 5 core values they stand by are passion, integrity, teamwork, caring, and excellence
- Kum & Go has generations of service-based leadership. In an industry where products are not generally differentiated, Kum & go wins with its people, which is why they’ve maintained such success for 61 years
- Tanner stresses that in today’s day and age, you cannot require a consumer to come shop and meet your needs at the store. They need the freedom to shop in person at their own convenience. Therefore, developing the technology for that freedom was essential to Kum & Go.
- Almost every decision you make, you think is right based on the information you have at the time. It is important to remember this when hindsight overturns your original decision
- Tanner encourages families with privilege to make transcended progress in driving change on matters of equality.
- Kum & Go associates get six weeks of fully paid maternity leave, which is rare for retail in Iowa. Thus far, this has impacted about 3,000-4,000 people.
- The family age of first employment at Kum & Go is 9 years old. Tanner was so excited to work, he unsuccessfully negotiated to start at 8.
LinkedIn: Tanner Krause
Kum & Go
LinkedIn: Kum & Go
[19:48] We have core values at Kum & Go. We have five. Passion, integrity, teamwork, caring, and excellence… A Kum & Go person is somebody who embodies those core values. Somebody who gets out of bed in the morning and thinks about making days better for others, “how do we come in and serve?” And it’s been this service mentality that has led us to be successful.
[31:44] Success in the convenience store business is getting some getting somebody to inconvenience themselves to go to a convenience store
[46:47] The fact that somebody’s going beyond just, you know, buying drinks and buying gas from us, but to say, “You know what? This company, this brand, this store, this experience is so cool, I want it too, and I want it to be a part of my personal story and my personal brand,” I get really proud. I’m really happy I see it, and it brings a smile to my face.
[48:53] Inequality exists in a variety of forms in America. And in order to make acceptable progress, it cannot be the oppressed that drive change. The privileged have to drive change. For us to really make transcended progress and success in matters of all sorts of equality, it has to be people like myself, people who look like me, people who have wealth and opportunity like I have, people that have education like I have, that recognize this and say…”Why don’t we be the force of change?”
Tanner Krause 0:02
Kum & Go’s purpose is to make this better if we’re successful in our purpose, and if we can give you just a glimpse of incremental joy or happiness, when you think about the impact that we can have in the country by being a small source of joy, that’s exciting to me, about, you know, how we can leverage what we do to drive the change, we want to see.
That’s what we’re trying to do. And we invest in our associates and we design our associate value proposition, not in a way in which, you know, what does the market demand? Or does the market bear for things or for people, but, you know, what do our people deserve? And listen objectively, like with a global perspective, do our people deserve a living wage to deserve maternity leave? Do they deserve health insurance, you know what that list look like? And you know, before we start to add bells and whistles over here, and let’s stay focused on people in our employ, and make sure that they’re respected and dignified, except that they shouldn’t be. And that’s what we’ve tried to do.
Marc Gutman 1:02
Podcasting from Boulder, Colorado, this is the baby got backstory Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like big Back stories, and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and today’s episode of Baby Got Back story. How a young boy from Iowa grew into his destiny to run one of the largest networks of privately owned convenience stores in the Midwest. I am so excited about today’s episode, because I’m personally obsessed with relevance.
How do we stay relevant?
How do we reinvent ourselves? How do we move forward with the world as it moves forward around us? And how do we stay relevant while effecting change. And today’s guest is all about relevance. Last week, we had Ariel Rubin from Kum & Go on the show. And today we are talking with Tanner Kraus president of Kum & Go.
And before we get to Tanner, I want to remind you to rate and review this show. If you’re listening, I’m assuming you like it. And if that’s the case, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over at Apple podcasts or Spotify, Apple podcasts and Spotify use these ratings as part of the algorithm that determines the ratings on their charts. ratings are good for us so we can continue to produce this show. Better yet, please recommend this show to at least one friend you think well like it. That’s just being a good friend.
Tanner Krauss is the president of Kum & Go headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. He is the fourth generation to lead the family owned business. And as President Tanner oversees the marketing operations, human resources, information technology, finance and storage development functions. Together, these teams provide support to 5000 Associates and 400 stores across 11 states. I mentioned that Tanner is 32 years old. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to him. And as you’re hearing today’s interview, he was raised for this job. And he knew ever since he knew something that this was his calling. And the combination of the two makes it no surprise that he is President today. What may surprise you is Tanner’s perspective on the convenience store. But the impact they’re making on their employees, their communities, and the world. Tanner is not simply along for the ride.
He sees Kum & Go as a platform to do good while continuing to build the business. As I mentioned last week, as a customer, I am so enamored by Kum & Go. I seek out their stores when I’m on the road. And I’m so honored to have Tanner Kraus on the show. And this is his story.
So I am here with Tanner Krause, the president of Kum & Go. Tanner, welcome. And if you could start off by telling us, what is Kum & Go?
Tanner Krause 4:26
Well, Marc, thanks for having me. And shout out to all your listeners out there. I love talking about Kum & Go. So Kum & Go is a convenience store company based in Des Moines, Iowa. We’ve been around for 61 years. We’re in 11 states across most of the Midwest, and we’ve got about 400 locations
Marc Gutman 4:47
and kind of a funny name. Where does the name Kum & Go come from?
Tanner Krause 4:54
Sure. Kum & Go is a name based actually on my family. So we’re a family business on the fourth generation of my family to lead the business. And, you know, Kum & Go and grew out of one store in Hampton, Iowa in 1959. And I like to say that Kum & Go was a love story. You had my grandpa who was working for a kind of oil, who’s about to get relocated to Wyoming. And his soon to be father in law said, there’s no way in hell you’re taking my daughter from I went to Wyoming in the 50s.
Why don’t I buy that service station that’s for sale on the corner, and you can run it and we’ll go into business together? So what’s keeping Nancy Gentle in Hampton, Iowa was the impetus for the first store in this business. And it was Hampton oil company. Well, we grew pretty rapidly that a good little model. And finally, we needed a name, and didn’t want to call it Hampton oil as we went into these other small towns in Northern Iowa. So we needed a name. And they wanted to name my grandpa, my great grandpa that brought in the K from my last name Krause. And then the G from my great grandpa’s last name, gentle. So we have the name Kum & Go.
And this is early 60s. So my grandfather’s go into the sign company in Northern Iowa. And they say we need you know, we have whatever nine stores, we need three signs for a store. And here’s our name, sign guy goes, Okay, it’s 50 bucks a letter, and does the record tick, as all right, it’ll cost you this much money to buy signage for your stores. And being a scrappy entrepreneurs that we were, they look up the name and said 50 bucks a letter, that’s too expensive. What if we do this, no longer will be a nd we’ll use the ampersand, save two characters. And we can spell come instead of spelling kome. We can spell it Kum save a third character. And then they got a new quote, they probably saved I don’t know, 4000 bucks or something and early 60s, and Kum & Go, as you know, today was named
Marc Gutman 7:18
Ah, that’s awesome and it’s become an iconic name ever since. And then. So from that moment, where we’re kind of in this moment where the name gets more or less branded, or I guess maybe the the typography of it comes about in this organic way. And the name comes about what happens there with the business, how does it continue to grow and expand?
Tanner Krause 7:43
Well, I think the thing that we’ve gotten better at recently is talking about the elephant in the room. And there was a long stretch of time where we didn’t know how to address the reality that it is our name, and the innuendo and the euphemism and the underlying sexual tone in our name. So we avoided it. And looking back, that was probably the wrong strategy, because we allowed others to control the narrative of our brand assets. Instead, we now embrace the fact that our name is our name. And we’re controlling the narrative, and we’re doing so in a way that doesn’t cheapen who we are, it doesn’t invite further sexualization of our brand.
It addresses the awkwardness in a mostly mature manner and we even stamped out rude or de sexualizing comments on our social media accounts, so that we, we don’t have that type of negative activity or surrounding us. And so now it’s becoming more of the conversation and more normalized, and we’re seeing a really positive reaction to that.
Marc Gutman 9:03
Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s really this idea, you know, that I’ve talked about before, which is brand or be branded, like, either you’re out there talking about it, or other people are, but people are talking about it. And so better, like, as you mentioned, to, to try to, it’s not even, like control the narrative, it’s just like, inform the narrative, it’s more like shape it because, you know, narratives are kind of our two ways. You know, a lot of times are most of the time with our customers.
And so, I love that and so, kind of getting back though to when you have these scrappy entrepreneurs, they’re they’re building the business, how did the business grow from what I was trying to maybe ask and, and I loved your answer because I but I did a poor job. I think of the asking the question was, how did the business grow from that point on how did it begin to become this bigger thing that started to spread out across multiple states and and over the generations have all these all these locations?
Tanner Krause 9:55
Yeah, happy to tell that story too. So, you know, we had a bit of magic That first service station back in Hampton, Iowa. And she had a couple things going for you that my grandpa and my great grandpa. And so my grandpa, Bill Krause was as charismatic a person as I ever met.
He was incredible with people, you remember everybody’s name, he remembered more than just your name about you. And he made you feel important. He made you feel special. And he never lost that. And no matter how influential or wealthy he became, he was always had a gift with people. And he worked his ass off. He, you know, my grandma still tell stories how when we had that first store, you would close overnight? Well, he would pin the home phone number to the gas pump. And if there was a trucker driving through Hampton at night, they needed to go to his store, call him he would put his boots on, got to bed, drive down to get the sale, and then go back home and sleep the rest of the night. And so he was that kind of guy.
Then you had my great grandfather, who was, you know, the consummate merchant, he was this business man, he, he owned a pharmacy in Northern Iowa, before he got into the gas and oil and service business, his family, his parents ran a fruit stand and kind of predict that depression era Iowa. And so he was good at merchandising, he was good at, you know, buying for $1 and selling for two. And so they really pioneered and what’s the modern day convenience store, at least in our part of the country in which you had this model that was very automobile focused. And it was oil changes and tire changes and fluid changes and gas. And it was kind of basics. And they were one of the first you know, it’s the story is told the first to really start to merchandise, staples with your automobile products.
So they were selling bread, milk, a eggs, nice to have, they were really bringing convenience to the customer. And that combination of merchandising and marketing, slash sales and people skills was a really successful one. So the store started to work, show them a lot of money, relatively speaking. And then they were able to kind of go town to town across Iowa. And you know, no business plan, No formalities, a walk into the local banker and say, Hey, this is my model, do you believe in me with a small loan, I can get one of these going in your town. And that worked. And it kept working. And I kept repeating itself.
And then that became Kum & Go, and then we’re growing through the 60s or going through the 70s, or growing through the 80s, pretty organically kind of one at a time slow, slow, slow, as you get to the 80s. And into the 90s, especially our business grew to where we were able to start kicking off a decent amount of cash. And we were able to do some acquisitions. So we really grew from a store count perspective and a geographical reach in the 90s especially. And so we had this operational magic, and to some extent, a strong brand.
But really the magic was in our ability to execute in stores, we could take a bankrupt chain of convenience stores in any town in the Midwest, buy it and run it and be able to make a good money and have really quick returns through that process. And so we did that, that got us into Omaha that got us into Colorado got us into Tulsa gotta finish Springfield, Missouri, got us into a lot of the markets where we are today. So my grandfather really led this scaling of our enterprise largest your acquisition.
The next chapter is you have my dad coming up to the business. And so my dad graduated from USC of Iowa in the mid 80s, and went straight in to Kum & Go. So he’s grown up during all this time. And he becomes CEO in 2004. And he shifts our growth strategy as a company. So we were an acquisition based company, we shift to grow into an organic built company again, where we now start to build our own stores. And what he saw was while the acquisition led growth had really positive short term returns, right, you’re buying really depreciated assets you’re putting Kum & Go on the storefront you’re putting Kum & Go people in the store and more importantly, and you’re getting quick paybacks, so that was spinning well for us.
But you wake up one day, we have 450 stores, all different types of associating customer experiences. We’ve got some stores of 711 built we’ve got some stores that getting go bill, we’ve got some stores that mom and pop in Oklahoma built and they’re all over the place in terms of asset quality product offering product mix, plan, the grand the whole nine yards was really scattered. And so our brand suffered ultimately, as a result of all that even though financially we’re quite strong.
So Dan kicks off this massive initiative to start to build new and rebuild the key real estate that we own and divest non strategic assets in real estate. And we are just about on the tail end of this project, but he kicked off. And I think it was 2010 or 2011, we’re really got ambitious about turning over the chain of stores that we own and operate. And so we now have, you know, in his CEO, experience or leadership, our store count has gone down, as we’ve divested, but we’ve built new stores, high performing stores, our volume for outlets are growing rapidly, and our overall company financial health, and ultimately, the profitability has grown substantially since he took over even though our total number of stores is actually smaller than it was in 2004.
Marc Gutman 15:57
Yeah, and then you come in and you become president. And we’ll get there in a second. But I kind of want to take a step back because you so clearly articulated, and thank you for sharing that story in that that journey of Kum & Go and your family. And so do you have brothers or other siblings?
Tanner Krause 16:15
I do. Yeah, I’m one of four boys.
Marc Gutman 16:18
Okay. And so it can you just give me a rundown of what that looks like in terms of ages and things like that.
Tanner Krause 16:25
Yeah, so my older brother Ryan is in law school. He’s doing social justice law at the Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan. On the second oldest, my younger brother Elliot, also lives in New York City. He is a director of a creative writing program at a Jesuit High School in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And my youngest brother, Oliver, is the director of analytics for Parma Calcio.
Marc Gutman 16:52
Oh, awesome. And so thank you for that. And so this might answer my question. So when you think back and you know, Tanner, you know, you’re 856, something like that growing up in Des Moines? Did you always think that you would someday? Be in the family business? Did you dream of having a leadership role Kum & Go? Or was there something else for you?
Tanner Krause 17:15
Absolutely, this is my dream. And I’m blessed to say that, you know, I woke up, I woke up, I grew up, and I looked up to my dad, I looked up to my grandfather, even my great grandfather, you know, he passed away when I was 18 years old, so a lot of exposure to him as well. So, you know, I looked at, you know, my family as, as role models as as aspirational to me. And I’ve always known I would do this. And I’ve always known that I would be a part of Kum & Go. And most of my life experiences were designed around preparing me to have the job I have today.
Marc Gutman 17:57
Yeah. And so it’s interesting, like, I like when I go into a Kum & Go, I feel that it’s different. And I don’t know why. And I think that that’s always the hallmark of a great brand is you can’t always identify why you’re feeling something or why you recognize it. But there’s these little things, you know, and and perhaps I can, I can trace it back to the stories you shared about your grandfather, your great grandfather and how they approached business. But like, you know, you do feel welcome, if there is a and I want to ask you, you know, what you mentioned, you know, we have Kum & Go people, which is a Kum & Go person, because like when I go into a common ghost store, I mean, you talk about things about being a family business, there’s values that are printed in different, you know, areas of the store, I mean, it just feels different.
Has it always been that way? Or is this something that that’s a little bit new with the brand and the way that you’re communicating your brand story through the store?
Tanner Krause 18:51
But I think we’re communicating our brand story in a new way. But I think that thread of consistency has been coming to people. And we’ve as a brand, if you look back over the last 60 years, you know, if you heard a lot about what I was saying, relative to our assets, we were not winning on asset or store experience or store quality for most of our company’s history.
Have you walked into Kum & Gos today, thanks to the hard work of my father and our real estate team, we’re finally winning on store stores, right? Our stores by and large, are bigger, brighter, newer, younger and better condition better materials than the competition. I’ll put our fleet up against just about anybody in the business.
However, that was not always the case. Like I said, when we’re buying bankrupt seven elevens in downtown Omaha, you don’t have great assets. So we had to win with people. And we have core values that Kum & Go we have five passion, integrity, teamwork, caring, an excellence. And so what is it coming to a person a kind of a person is somebody who embodies those core values. Somebody who gets out of bed in the morning and thinks about making days better for others, how do we come in and serve. And it’s been this service mentality that has led us to be successful.
And you saw that by now my grandfather was not above doing anything in a kum & go store, even when he was in his 60s and 70s. If the garbage was unsatisfactory, he would take the garbage out. If the pumps were dirty, he’d walk in and say, you know, where are your cleaning materials, he walked out and he cleaned the pump, and I saw him good, I’m going to Kum & Go to stores, where here’s this, you know, semi retired founder, cleaning palms, taking out the trash getting the mop out of the bathroom, that’s who he was. And so we have generation, decades of service based leadership of customer service based associate training and culture built into our DNA.
And ultimately, we haven’t been able to win on assets for a long time products in our industry are not very differentiated, you’d walk into our store, it’s a similar line of products. And when you walk into our competition, that’s a tough place for us to win. So you got it went on people. That’s why we’ve been successful for 61 years.
Marc Gutman 21:19
I love that. And you know, you mentioned that you were always destined to do this, that this was your dream job. I mean, do you remember that first day when you became president? Like, I know, you were in the company prior to that, so it wasn’t like you just like, walked in, you know, one day and became president, but like, we scared like, Did you think like, Am I gonna be the fourth generation that screws this thing up? Like, did you have any apprehension?
Tanner Krause 21:45
Absolutely. You know, I knew how to say one thing, my dad still CEO in the business, now he empowers me more and more every day. And at some point, there’ll be an additional transition, where he’ll step out of Kum & Go a little bit more than he is today. He’ll Kum & Go zone by the crowds, group. Kraus group owns and operates 10 different businesses soon to be 11. And so we’ve got a lot going on in our portfolio. And he’s trusted in the power of me, and I’m appreciative of that. But absolutely, I’ve I’ve been scared, I’ve been worried, I’ve been nervous. That motivates me, that gets me out of bed, you know what you said, I think about a lot, right?
I feel the pressure to perpetuate what we do as a business as my main responsibility in this life. And I’m not going to fail, we are not going to fail. And we are faced with some of the greatest challenges that Kum & Gos ever faced, in my lifetime, we will see my prediction, almost the complete eradication of the internal combustible engine, gas will go away, it’ll become a novelty, right, the shift to electric or hydrogen fuel cells or some alternative energy source is a matter of when and not if, even though we still have a lot of time to figure that out. And then you look at what technology is doing to brick and mortar.
Sure, our industry has been relatively protected from e-commerce, because it’s harder to get a hot cup of coffee delivered to your door from Amazon than it is to get a book. And so we’re a little bit inflated, but that’s coming and you’re seeing that happen now. And so I view it as a personal responsibility as a failure responsibility to step up and say, we’re not going to take the easy way out and sell. And we’re not going to get our lunch eaten by somebody who hasn’t been doing this as long as we’ve been doing this. So whether it was the first day became president, which was June 1 2018, I was 30 or today, or in 10 years, we’re going to get up every day and say how does Kum & Go continuing to live its purpose How does Kum & Go continue to sustain itself generation after generation so that not only my family has something to be proud of. But every family of the 5000 people that we employ has something they can be proud of for another generation.
Marc Gutman 24:14
And that’s you know, quite a mantle to carry and you know, I can I can feel like how much it means to you. And so when you think about it, what is the future of convenience if we are moving towards this new world? You know, what does that look like? What are you thinking about?
Tanner Krause 24:30
As I became a president, I’ve tried to shift the mentality of Kum & Go for a long time. We’ve classified ourselves as a convenience store. We’re no longer a convenience store. We are in the immediate consumption business. That is our value to the customer is coming those stands for a place where it is easy and quick and convenient to get something to eat drink that I want now.
The convenience store has merely been the model of delivery for us to meet that consumer need. And because of technology and shifts in consumer behavior, there are now other ways to meet that same need. So we have to focus on being the immediate consumption retailer of choice for our target customer. So that when you are in Colorado, one snack, once in a drink, want something to smoke, you think of Kum & Go. And we remain the most convenient option to get it to you quickly and conveniently for your immediate needs. And that means evolving beyond traditional brick and mortar retail, that means leveraging our existing brick and mortar stores and locations to our advantage, because that remains our major competitive advantage over disruptors and people from outside our industry.
And so we’ll leverage that. And it means developing technology to allow for the consumer to shop us at their choice. And to not require that consumer to come get in their car travel to our store and shop on hard turf on our terms in order to meet their needs. Because in this century, it’s all about customer and convenience. And those customers will pay a premium for. And so if we’re not there, and if we’re not on the attack, and we’re waiting for customers to come to us, we’re going to be out of business.
Marc Gutman 26:30
Yeah, and what I can say about like, even in this time, in this present day, you know, like I every every summer, I drive my family from Colorado, to Michigan for the summer, and I you know, good, right? Right through come and go territory, right, right through come and go country. And literally, I mean, my family is like, we are only stopping at a common goal. And especially if you’re new, they called Fresh Market, or what’s the new the newer concepts, the marketplace, the marketplace where they have healthy options where they have good food, you know, it’s interesting.
My kids are like, I won’t eat at McDonald’s, I won’t eat it fast, you know, like, and so it really does feel like you understand the customer and who you’re trying to serve and the present day and modern customer, you know, like you walk in any of your competitors. And it’s like, basically, there are no healthy options. And it’s like pizza that’s been sitting there for, you know, probably half the day and things like that. So that really is felt, you know, and one of the things that so impresses me about coming, go. And so when you think about convenience, and maybe you, you know, mentioned this a little bit, but what’s hard about it, like What don’t we get, like What don’t we see and what’s hard about your role and the way that you are trying to bring convenience to your customer or instant consumption.
Tanner Krause 27:46
The hardest thing is consistent and quality execution. And Ours is a model, like most retailers, where you’ve got your typically lowest paid associates, handling your customer delivering your customer service, and executing what needs to get done to make your business run. And so because we acknowledge that we try to culture is set up, Kum & Go. And again, a spirit of service to where we call our corporate headquarters, the store Support Center, and we look at our store associates as they come first in the value chain. And how do we support what happens in our stores? How do we make their days better so they can make our customers days better? How do we take complexity and non value added work away from our stores and into our store support center so they can focus on what really matters? And that’s taking care of the customers?
Marc Gutman 28:57
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You know kind of Want to shift a little bit and talk about how, you know you and I became introduced via social media roundabout way and right before this episode airs, we have Ariel on and so a lot of our listeners, listeners will hear about a bit about that approach and things like that. But like what I’m really interested in hearing, you know, you’re younger, you know, you just kind of, you know, laid out your age or you’re 32 if I’m doing the math, and so you definitely have that perspective of, of social media. But, you know, my family comes from the oil business, and my extended family. And so I’ve been around a lot. And I think of it as a real, like, old fashion, not willing to move not very progressive. I mean, certainly not your family, but you know, your, your competitors, of course, and to think that you came in and said, Look, we’re going to do things differently, we’re going to meet our customers where they are, which is on social. I mean, like, how did that all come about? Was your dad like, Tanner? Like? I don’t know, or was he just like, do it like, was he like, yes, like, I believe in this?
Tanner Krause 31:03
Well, my dad has been a huge supporter of mine. I mean, he’s he’s given me opportunities that I didn’t fully expect, or maybe didn’t have full confidence in my abilities, which, if you don’t know me, is kind of rare. And he believed in me, and he supported me and encouraged me through the way. And growing up the business and seeing us up close, then from afar and up close, I’ve kind of coming out of the company a few times on my track, I understood that we needed to stand for something greater, and that Kum & Go a little bit had had lost a little bit of a differentiation. And I say this a lot success in the convenience store business is getting some getting somebody to inconvenience themselves to go to a convenience store.
How do you drive for that irrational behavior in which it might be a little slower, or a lot more out of my way, or potentially slightly more expensive, but there’s just something there that I like, and it just draws me to it. And we’re doing what we can to differentiate on the product side, and you call out some of our healthier options, we’re going to go further in that direction. But a bulk of our revenue is still in ubiquitous product, right? You’re talking alcohol, you’re talking tobacco, you’re talking packaged goods, either under cooler or on the shelf. And there’s that last X percent, that we’re doing proprietary stuff that is different.
However, this social, you know, what I can take credit for is a lot longer than I can’t take credit for, I can take credit for attracting creative talent and getting out of their way. And the good thing about social is that the numbers speak for themselves. And it’s a subset or it’s an industry and of itself by now, where you’ve got instantaneous feedback from the customer. you post something, what was your engagement? What were your life over your views when your shares and you can get that feedback, and you can see if it’s working or not. And you can see progress over time. It’s more challenging. If you hire somebody as an accountant and say, you know, do accounting, right, you’re not getting instantaneous feedback from the customer.
And so, Arielle and I are friends who’ve been a family friend of ours for probably close to 20 years, he was our roommate with my older brother in New York City back early 2000s. And when we had this opening, I knew he could bring something different. And I don’t fully understand what he does. I don’t get social like he does. That’s okay. You know, Arielle has no approvals necessary to post. You know, he’s this, you know, Director of Communications at our company, and he’s got full authority and he fires away. And he’s smart enough, and we see the progress we’ve seen in access. And he has created that same type of empowerment culture on his team. You know, he recognizes Instagram is a powerful medium, and recognizes that he’s okay at instant. But that’s not really his microgeneration and it’s not really his sweet spot.
So he hired somebody who was personally excellent an Instagram to come help us on that medium, tick tock becoming more important. Now, Arielle, and I probably know nothing about Tick tock, but we know enough to know that it’s important. And so are you recruiting hired a person who was individually extremely successful at Tick tock, and we empowered them to come in to Kum & Go, and they’ve done an incredible job with that platform and our brands. And so our success and social, I don’t deserve much credit at all. But what I can say is that I’ve tried to hire credit talent and get out of their way.
Marc Gutman 34:55
Yeah. And as you were speaking, I think that you think that is like normal? Or that that is the way that most people do it. But I can reflect back to you that it’s not. And that you know that that leadership style of trusting in your people. Like, where do you think that comes from? And I have to imagine, again, having experience in family business that’s like, that’s got to be hard, right? Like, it’s got to be hard.
I mean, Kum & Go, might as well, it might as well say, Krause across your chest, you know, I mean, that is the same thing. I mean, Kum & Go is your family. It is your family moniker, it’s you, you laid it out very clearly, like this is your purpose of life to you to make this make this thing keep going? And like, Where do you think that leadership style comes from, where you have that ability to care so much in in that caring, you’re able to let go and let people have their voice and do their job? Because I it’s not, it’s not something we typically see.
Tanner Krause 35:55
I think it starts with my dad, and my dad trusted and empowered me and gave me the chance to succeed. And he gave me a chance to fail. And he knew that if I screwed up, there’d be limited consequences, at least with the amount of slack is give me at the time, right? And when you own your business, you don’t have to explain yourself to anybody. You don’t have external accountability. It’s an incredibly powerful advantage that we have. And we have complete job security. So if a tweet fails, or a post fails, in which we’ve had a poster to fail, arguably,
Marc Gutman 36:41
Ariel shared a couple on his episode.
Tanner Krause 36:43
Sure. So it’s there. Right. Okay. What happened? You could argue that that posts end up being a success, because we’re talking about today. And it was a semi innocuous tweet about a sporting event at Iowa State game, which, you know, Arielle, the sports novice and Iowa newbie, underestimated people’s passion for, you know, the Seahawk rivalry. And you know, we got one wrong. Okay, we deleted a tweet, we wrote a Mia culpa. And we moved on. And guess what send us back failure of epic proportions where people, you know, like putting out there and rewards loyalty cards. We probably doubled our Twitter following in since then, right. I mean, failing on social media post has minor consequences. And so we’ve just said, you know, what we do? I’ve Kum & Go, you know, it’s not brain surgery, right? I mean, we’re selling snacks. We’re selling vices, we’re selling things that people enjoy the simple need. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously.
Marc Gutman 37:48
And, yeah, I mean, when you is that also your leadership style, though? Like, I mean, you’re kind of like pinpointing social, but are you very much a, get the right people in the right place and let them do their job.
Tanner Krause 38:01
Indeed, you know, I listen, I’m less experienced than probably anybody that has a job like mine in a company like mine, I recognize that. And so in order to compensate for one of my perceived weaknesses, I hire people that have that experience. And I don’t try to tell them what to do. They’ve done this before. I’ve got ideas, I’ve got passion, you know, I’ve grown up in the business, I know, Kum & Go really well, I know what might work here, but don’t always know how to get things from idea mode to execution mode. And so I find that in people and I hire them, and I’m big on measurement tools, you know, to me, we’ve got to focus on the right measurables or metrics for our business.
And we’ve got to have the leadership group set goals for ourselves over some period of time, and say, Okay, we’re going to move this number from A to B over the next five years. And I’m going to empower small number of people to be ultimately responsible for making progress. And so long as they stay within some, you know, brand code operate within our core values, you know, do these things in a good and sustainable way and go for it. And if you screw up, that’s okay. Because, again, we’re trying to be outdone. And if we miss earnings for a quarter or a year, it doesn’t matter. Because we’ve you come and go as a generational business, we make investments over a 10 to 20 year horizon. And so if we have some hiccups along the way, the setbacks are minor. So yes, I try to hire smart people, hire talented people, make sure that we align on a direction, make sure they understand how they’ll be measured. In terms of success, and then give them the tools they need to be successful.
Marc Gutman 40:04
Well, and you mentioned that you had, you know, the latitude to fail, and you have some security within there, outside of social are there is there a failure or an instance you’ve had, since you’ve been at the helm of the company where you were dislike, that you can recall or, you know, were, it was it was one where maybe you’d like to have back,
Tanner Krause 40:26
almost every decision that you make you think is right, based on the information that you have at the time of the decision. And there are very few decisions that I’ve made in my leadership experience here, where I’ve looked back and said, what I knew, then I did or said the wrong thing. And with the benefit of hindsight, you look back and say, Boy, if I had could have that one over again, I would. But if you’re talking about you know, mistakes, or you know, asking for a mulligan, hiring is challenging. And when you hire externally, if you can do better than 50%, you’re a good selector of talent. And, you know, time will tell I made a lot of hires in my few years in the business. And I’ve not gotten every one of those right. And that’s had, you know, at times, so significant consequence, in terms of, you know, setting us back months, or maybe a year on a significant body of work. And so yeah, you know, if I could look back at some of the hires that didn’t last or didn’t work, and do those over again, I’d love that opportunity.
Marc Gutman 41:35
Who wouldn’t? Right? Who wouldn’t? And, you know, one thing I really love about common go is that it’s, it’s a brand, you’ve branded it. And now there’s these things, and we talk about sometimes on the show about, you know, whole brands, not the logo and the name, and it comes down to things like core values, and the underlying essence and the why and the purpose of what you’re trying to do. But you’ve also created some really cool, like visual brand, artifacts, some hats, some gear, some fanny packs, like, where does this focus? Because some, someone’s got to say, Hey, we’re gonna do this kind of stuff. Where does this focus on elevating and building the coming go brand come from? Because again, like, you don’t see that from a whole lot of other people in your category, right? You don’t see shell, you know, doing a really great job with that. And some of these other, you know, smaller, smaller convenience stores and things like that. So where does where does that come from?
Tanner Krause 42:33
Well, there’s this incredible pride and loyalty and sometimes a rivalry amongst regional convenience for change in America. And none of the industry has this kind of, oftentimes rooted in the style, like loyalty and passion around some of these brands. And this is kind of, oh, you’re that brand, or where did you come from, or you got to pick aside or whatever else. But there’s this really strong, just organically develop passion for our brand that existed, you know, in and of itself for decades, that we’ve been able to tap into recently. And, and it’s about, from my perspective, at least, it’s a, it’s about taking pride in what we do. And it’s about wanting to lead and own a company that does cool stuff. And that doesn’t just look at what we do, as, you know, X’s and O’s.
But what we do is, how do we build a company where we can have fun, where our associates can be proud of what we’re doing, where our customers are proud of what we’re doing. And so, you know, oftentimes, it’s like, not as complicated and, and being relatively small, and certainly, you know, privately held helps, but if we want a fanny pack, and when I say we, I mean, my brothers me, Arielle, you know, then let’s make fanny packs. And I bet we could find some fans on social that would also love fanny packs. And your audience can see the shirt I’m wearing, but you know, Kum & Go one in a ward for an LGBT organization in Iowa, and I filmed an acceptance speech that said, you know, what, I want to come up with a T shirt with pride colors. And so we made a combination of product colors. And it’s just a function of taking pride in what we do, and wanting to have fun along the way.
And, you know, oftentimes, these are little, you know, swags that we just develop and build and, you know, creates buzz around the brand and creates advocates out there, it gets us a lot of awareness and, you know, we’re on the right people’s hips are on the right people’s chest, and next thing, you know, like, Kum & Go becomes the brand of preference for the next generation of rising consumers. And so, you know, I’m confident that in 20 years, and these kind Uh, you know, regional c store brand wars, there’ll be a lot more people out there saying, Oh, yeah, coming goes my company because, you know, but back when I was in college, you know, the fanny pack was the coolest thing on campus, or they stepped up for, you know, my school’s LGBTQ organization in a way that other people didn’t. And so, you know, we’re having fun, and we’re breeding loyalty.
Marc Gutman 45:24
And I want you to think back in two recent memory, and I want you to think back to the last time you saw someone wearing some Kum & Go, the peril in the wild, right? Not at not at a store, but you’re just out and about, maybe you’re having a nice night out or something. Did you? Can you remember that?
Tanner Krause 45:43
I haven’t been out of the house in about nine months. If I go back deep into the archives, I can have a couple of things that come to mind. Yes,
Marc Gutman 45:51
yeah. And so when you think of that, like, maybe maybe you can share with us like real briefly like what you’re thinking of? And then like, how does that make you feel when you see someone wearing your brand kind of out and about town and rep and Kum & Go and they don’t know who you are, you know, you’re just you’re just across the square or whatever? Like, like, Can you share that with us.
Tanner Krause 46:10
It’s a unique feeling to work for a family business, it’s, you know, I worked outside of the company, I’ve worked inside the company, and the amount of pride that I have for Kum & Go is unparalleled, I wouldn’t be able to find this working for I don’t think any other company in the world. And so when I see, other people choose to associate themselves with our brand. Again, we’re not a company that really earns any money on memorabilia, or products, or merchandise or wearables, that is not what we do. So the fact that somebody who’s going beyond just, you know, buying drinks and buying gas from us, but to say, you know, what, this company, this brand, this store, this experience is so cool, I want it to and I want it to be a part of my personal story and my personal brand, I get really proud, I’m really happy I see it, and it brings a smile to my face.
Marc Gutman 47:08
And you’re talking just prior to that to about your involvement with the LGBTQ community. You know, as you know, I’ve been following you on your company on social and you’re your champion of a lot of progressive issues. Where does that come from, like this idea of, of being a Stuart, a champion, a representative for these types of issues, again, we just don’t see a lot of convenience stores or a lot of businesses, and there’s a lot of businesses don’t even do it in general, that are out there as a champion for these groups. And where does that all come from? And what’s that all about?
Tanner Krause 47:40
You know, my family’s extremely privileged. I mean, just extremely wealthy. I mean, it’s not really a secret, right? I mean, we are who we are. And through that privilege, we’ve been able to see a lot of the world. And we’re extremely well traveled, I’m very fortunate to, you know, have the experiences that I’ve had in life, I’ve been able to live in foreign countries, my brothers have lived in foreign countries, I’ve been able to educate myself to a master’s level, as have all of my siblings. And you know, with that comes perspective. And we’ve always been raised with a strong sense of, you know, what’s right, and a strong sense of respect and dignity for others. And, again, going back to my grandfather, who has one of the most prominent figures in the state of Iowa, and was not going into stores and barking orders, but he was changing trash as a, you know, 70 year old man and expensive car in the parking lot. And we’ve always just felt a general respect for humanity.
And personally, I feel responsible to stand up to improve equality in this country. And inequality exists in a variety of forms in America. And in order to make an acceptable progress. It cannot be the oppressed, that drive change, the privileged have to drive change, for us to really make transcended progress and success in matters of all sorts of equality. It has to be people like myself, people who look like me, people who have wealth and opportunity, like I have people have education, like I have that recognize this and say, You know what, my family has plenty for generations, families like ours, and even families, less affluent and privileged as ours are doing so well. That it’s time we look around and say why don’t we be the force of change? And why don’t we reach a handout and help some of our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our associates, our customers in these oppressed communities and say, I see you I respect you. I’m here for you. And I’m going to Put your needs, and you get into basic levels of human dignity about me getting who knows a lake house or some other, like ostentatious acquisition that we could do.
Because that, you know, the time has come for, you know us in power and us in privilege to join this fight, and to, to stand up for matters of equality, because, you know, it’s, it’s been on too long. And I recognize now that, you know, I’ve got this platform, I’ve got podcasts like this, I’ve got other engagements where I can speak on things. And I want to draw attention to these. And it is rare, unfortunately, in our industry, and it’s rare, unfortunately, in the corporate world. And that’s too bad. But maybe if I go first, and other leaders and companies say, okay, like they did that, and guess what, like their business didn’t fail, or customers didn’t leave them wholesale, or whatever measurement they might be worried about that outcome didn’t happen.
And guess what, people got a little bit better life out of it. Did that success, the impact that I want to leave in this world? Sure. It’s about coming up being sustainable. But it’s about bigger than that. It’s about how do we how do we push for a better humanity and, and one of the things of just how America is constructed is that private enterprise drives an outsized amount of change in the world, we have this free market approach to most of our economies, to most of our societies. And so I look at something that we did last year where we gave maternity leave to our frontline associates. And so now Kum & Go associate working in a store to get six weeks of fully paid maternity leave, that is rare for retail in Iowa, we were able to give that benefit to about 3000 4000 people, right, but it’s bigger companies look at what we did and say, You know what, that was good.
Or now I have to do that thing to be competitive in the labor market with Kum & Go, then those 3000 people, and then these other companies over here, follow, then that might be 30,000 people. And then next thing, you know, we might have just gone a whole generation of islands or Americans that have access to what should be a basic civic right to be in this country of paid leave for newborn children got that benefit. And so what we try to do is recognize the inequality in America and stand up for those that are oppressed and do what we can. And listen, before I stop talking.
We’re not perfect. All right. We’re not we don’t do everything. Right. All right. And we’ve not been this way forever. And you’ve got a long history. And I’m sure there’s things that people can point to and say, Well, what about this? And what about that, and those things are probably true, and they’re probably fair to say, but what I can say is that we care, we see oppression, we don’t stand for it, and we’re trying to stamp it out. And we’re going to do better every day. But we’re not going to be perfect starting today or tomorrow. But I promise you, we’re gonna make progress in the right direction.
Marc Gutman 53:07
Yeah, and certainly, you know, if you can’t hear it in Tanner’s voice, you know, I thought he was gonna come through the screen at me so passionate about this issue. And so he does care. And Tanner as we as we kind of come to the end of our time here. I’ve got two more questions for you. The first being What’s your favorite store, or at least the the one that you’re most proud of, and why?
Tanner Krause 53:30
My favorite store is at the corner of 16th and Ashworth road in West Des Moines. Because that was where I started working. The family age of first employment Kum & Go is nine. And so at nine years old, I put on the white shirt and tie for our uniform then. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, I would go to work, I would sweep, I would mop I would stop the cooler, I would clean the shelves. And if I was lucky, I could run the register. And so for me, that’s where it all started. Yeah, I
Marc Gutman 54:03
mean, I can only imagine you’re like, you know, just waiting probably as eight year old Tanner to become nine to go put on that uniform.
Tanner Krause 54:10
I actually tried to negotiate an earlier start date this is speaks to my passion to the company. So my brother started at nine as well. And he’s just older in his grade than I was he’s an October birthday. So he turned nine early in third grade. I’m a June birthday. So I turned nine late in third grade. And so I tried to negotiate with my dad, you know, Hey, Ryan got to be working in his second month of third grade. Therefore, I think I should be able to start working and my second month of third grade and does the no you start working when you’re nine. And so I went back to school.
Marc Gutman 54:45
Are you June 19 by any chance?
Tanner Krause 54:48
Marc Gutman 54:49
thought we’re gonna share a birthday. I was really excited. I was gonna announce it like live on the show that we we had a similar birthday but Tanner, so I want you to think back to That nine year old boy on that first day, walking into comigo and that brand new uniform, so proud and what do you think he would say, if he saw where you are today,
Tanner Krause 55:11
but I haven’t fast this ascension into leadership happen quicker than my wildest dreams. But, you know, I, I was I made that nine year old proud, you know, I hope I make all 5000 people that we employ proud I take a two minutes of pride in this company. I hope I make my grandfather proud. He’s an incredible role model in my life. And he passed away in 2013. And, you know, he knew I was I was going down this career path. And so I was fortunate enough to have that alignment with him before he passed. But I think about him every day. And you know, I I just try to take my responsibility and stand up for what’s important and make those around me proud.
Marc Gutman 56:02
And that is Tanner Kraus, president of coming go. I’m sure you could feel Tanner’s passion and commitment coming through the mic. We had a chance to talk a bit after and it dawned on me that Tanner sees entrepreneurship, the business not as the purpose. But as the tool, the tool that can affect change, both locally and globally, the tool that can provide better lives for their employees and the tool that can be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. And yes, we’re still talking about convenience stores.
But when done right, like Kum & Go, any business can change the world. And a big thank you to Tanner Krauss and the team that Kum & Go. Your brand was started as a love story. And I can’t wait to see where the love story goes. Next. We will link to all things Tanner and Kum & Go in the show notes. Well, that’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS so you’ll never miss an episode. A lot big stories and I cannot lie to you other storytellers can’t deny