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When I first sat down with W.A. "Bill" Krause in the fall of 2006 to interview him on the occasion of his induction into the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame, I thought I might be doing his exit interview from the industry.
After all, he had just crowned a 47-year career in convenience retailing by being elected by his peers to join the industry's most prestigious group of entrepreneurs and business leaders. Earlier that year, he turned over the reins of the company's day-to-day leadership to his son, Kyle, who remains Kum & Go's president and CEO today.
But after speaking with the energetic then-71-year-old, I knew the co-founder of what is today's 16th-largest company-operated c-store chain was nowhere near retiring.
And while the company is firmly under the guidance of his sons, Kyle and Kevin, who serves as chief marketing officer, Bill's influence, and the culture of hard work and customer service that he instilled, live on.
The company's Ideal Customer Experience (I.C.E.) approach traces directly back to the co-founder's legacy, and son Kyle notes customer service has to be in the "DNA" of today's Kum & Go associates if they are going to succeed with the company.
One of the most difficult phases any company or family can go through is the act of passing leadership from one generation to another in a family-controlled business. But it seems Kum & Go has made it work. Under Kyle's leadership, the company's store count continues to increase as the chain pursues both acquisitions and new builds. There's little doubt that Kum & Go will be one of the retailers that will drive consolidation in the c-store industry over the next few years & especially if it continues to follow the lessons of its co-founder.
Indeed, one of the lasting impressions from my first interview with Bill Krause was that I had just taken a graduate school class in entrepreneurship. I could boil the course down to the following tenets:
Work Works Wonders: A favorite saying of Bill's late father-in-law and business partner, Tony Gentle, hard work is an essential ingredient in this rags-to-riches story. Krause left his family's failed farm at the age of 15, hired himself out to a Quaker family for $10 a day and put himself through both high school and college before his future father-in-law offered him a job for $300 a month. (The company's unique name is a play on the phrase "come and go" using the initials of founders Krause and Gentle.)
Try New Things: While founding and growing a modern convenience store chain might seem like a full plate, Krause never shied away from new challenges. As a result, his fingerprints can be seen all over various other businesses, including a major Iowa bank, a local professional soccer team, a refined fuel transport company, a collection of southern Iowa farms and a minor league baseball team.
Don't Look Back: Of course, not all new ventures pan out. Ill-fated attempts to launch a ladies apparel retail chain and a slot-machine-type gaming business were viewed more as learning experiences than failures.
So, congratulations to Bill, Kyle, Kevin and the more than 3,600 dedicated associates at Kum & Go. Happy 50th.
Also, congratulations to this year's CSNews Store Design Contest winners and runners-up: Redlands Carwash, La Grove Plaza, Rutter's Farm Stores, Smitty's Paradise, Quick Chek, Arrowhead Travel Plaza and Mac's Convenience Stores.