ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Connecting with customers is really important, especially as we’re living in an online world these days. “Over the summer, the road trip came back, as more people were driving,” said Derek Gaskins, chief marketing officer for Yesway, which operates in many tourist destinations, on this week’s episode of Convenience Matters, “Always Be Closing: A Conversation with Derek Gaskins.”
“The two words that I’ve used are being flexible and being agile,” Gaskins said of how he approached marketing during the pandemic. “That meant the marketing became less about promotions. You don’t want to be the person out there saying, ‘Hey, this is on sale,’ in the middle of a pandemic. … You have to understand what your customer is going through, and those messages were all about being neighborly.”
In the beginning of the pandemic, Yesway’s marketing revolved around COVID-19. “Most of our marketing was around trying to get a spirit of empathy in the stores, trying to de-politicize wearing a mask,” he said.
To do that, the Midwestern c-store chain launched Hospitality Heroes, which became its marketing program from the summer and into the present. “We’re on our third wave of Hospitality Heroes, which is a positive reinforcement program,” Gaskins said. The program asked customers to nominate their store to highlight what employees were doing to keep them safe. Yesway also employed mystery shoppers, who handed out cash spot prizes to employees for doing a good job. “These incentives kept the employees doing it right. It changed the dialogue. It’s not, ‘Put your mask on,’ … It’s more of a ‘Great job. You’re modeling what we want,’” he said.
Yesway’s approach centered around listening. “Let’s be part of the solution,” he said. “Let’s understand. People are going stir-crazy and in many times, our stores became outlets.” Overall, the chain took a thoughtful, more long-term view around building the brand, when it came to marketing.
For more insights from Gaskins about marketing in a pandemic, listen to the podcast here. Each week a new Convenience Matters episode is released. With more than 200 episodes to choose from, the podcast can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and other podcast apps and YouTube and at www.conveniencematters.com. Episodes have been downloaded more than 200,000 times by listeners around the world.
NACS Magazine profiled Yesway and its integration of Allsup’s in “Leave the Tech, Take the Burrito” in the November 2020 issue.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.