Catch Them In the Act: Yesway’s Derek Gaskins On Building a Culture of Winners

Lisa Johnston
Senior Editor
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From left: Derek Gaskins and CGT editor in chief Tim Denman

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Convenience chain Yesway is determined to make its way during this turbulent time with a relentless focusing on its brand promise of keeping stores going 24/7.

In order to succeed on this mission, the four-year-old chain has made great strides to protect its associates and its customers in part by rewarding certain desired behaviors, chief marketing officer Derek Gaskins shared in the Consumer Goods Sales and Marketing Summit keynote, “From the Frontlines of Convenience: How to ‘Win with Winners.’”

Gaskins noted the chain takes seriously its role as an essential retailer, especially since it’s often the only game in town in many small and rural areas. In order to maintain operations safely and successfully, Yesway followed suit of other retailers and CGs in offering employees guaranteed paid time off should they get sick, provided additional compensation, and ensured it didn’t raise prices for customers.

However, it took things even a step further with its Hospitality Heroes program — a corporate strategy that incentivizes desired behaviors — established to help the retailer wade through a tense, politicized situation and tamp down the stress.

The program instead focuses on empathy and doing the right thing, and has resulted in giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to team members as rewards for such tasks as social distancing, wearing masks and maintaining clean operating standards.

The goal was to “catch them doing the right things,” said Gaskins. Mask wearing, while now standard for retail chains, had yet to reach a mainstream practice, and so Yesway was keen to reward its workers for doing the right thing, whether it was the law or not.

The company also tapped into the fierce loyalty consumers have with the Allsup’s Market brand — Gaskins noted that some customers even have tattoos to display their affinity — by offering company-branded masks, as well as those with the beloved Baby Yoda.

The strategy building upon the idea that “we’re going through a culture change while the world is changing, and how can I bring a positive aspect to that?” Gaskins said.

The upcoming Smiles loyalty program

“If you focus on the people-first culture, it will take you a really long way to building a winning culture and having a sense of ownership and empower people to do the right things.”

While Yesway is embarking on an ambitious growth strategy that will drive value via scale, Gaskins acknowledged there will always be someone bigger, and thus partnering with key suppliers is crucial to success in the theme of a rising tide lifts all boats.

“There’s an Amazon out there. There’s a Walmart out there. How can I partner with key suppliers so it’s a win/win?” Instead, it seeks to work with suppliers that will help the category win, in keeping with the “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality.

Staking a place in the last mile will continue to be a significant component of Yesway’s strategy. It currently has Amazon lockers at 250 store, and while they carry nominal revenue and rent costs, the bigger gains have translated into trip drivers.

This in turn has positioned Yesway and Allsup’s Markets as being part of a solution in small, rural areas without having to impact labor or store teams. They are instead making it easier for the company to do business.

Gaskins also previewed Yesway’s upcoming loyalty program, known as Smiles, targeted to launch at the end of Q1 across 300 stores. Consumers can accumulate rewards points to exchange for merchandise and receive personalized offers, and their participation will enable Yesway to better understand its customers to become better marketers and merchants.

Its Stack and Save program, in which consumers earn gas savings and rewards through loyalty and gamification, also builds on this winning culture to work with brands to go beyond just transactions to create experiences. Yesway is also in the process of launching e-commerce with branded apparel and other items, and has plans to add branded frozen foods to the mix.

Inspired by Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci and Michael Jordan, Gaskins detailed how he challenges his team to have the courage to say no to ideas. Instead, value is driven by doing fewer things better through a culture of focus. Ultimately, team members are encouraged to focus on how they can impact their stores.

“If you focus on what you can control, and you can prioritize, simply, and amplify, you ultimately create that winning culture.”

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