CrossAmerica Partners is in many ways similar to the city in which it resides: Allentown. Over the course of recent years, Allentown has experienced tremendous growth culminating in the opening of the PPL Center, a concert and sports arena, as well as the Renaissance Allentown Hotel, located adjacent to the arena and across the street from CrossAmerica’s headquarters.
In fact, it is clear Allentown is no longer the blue-collar city Billy Joel sang about in 1982.
CrossAmerica Vice President of Wholesale Fuel George Wilkins has seen the new Allentown buildings go up from his fifth-floor office, as well as all the growth at the master limited partnership since its initial public offering as Lehigh Gas Partners in 2012.
Wilkins has held various positions within the fuel industry for 18 years. Following his graduation from Drexel University, his career began in 1997 in Mobil’s leadership training program where he learned to manage all aspects of a gas station over the course of 16 months.
“As I look back at my career and decide what’s truly important, I realize that it always begins and ends with the customer buying experience within the stations. Having that 16-month experience managing the station really afforded me the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the business and what makes a station a true success,” said Wilkins.
In addition to working for Mobil, he has been employed by several other industry heavyweights including ConocoPhillips and Lukoil. These experiences have provided Wilkins with his own ideals of what best serves this industry.
More than three years ago, the father of two boys and one girl was recruited by CrossAmerica CEO Topper and David Hrinak, executive vice president and chief operating officer, to work for Lehigh Gas, which was renamed CrossAmerica Partners in 2014. He was initially hired as wholesale general manager when the company was much smaller.
“It was an inspiring opportunity to go from working for Big Oil to someone like Joe Topper, who is a true entrepreneurial individual who created this company from the ground up,” said Wilkins.
Now, as one of two vice presidents at CrossAmerica, Wilkins oversees 546 gas stations and convenience stores, approximately half of which are company controlled, while the other half are strictly supply relationships. Ten salespeople and a brand manager report to him.
The key aspect of Wilkins’ job is developing the people he works with. This entails ensuring people are in the right positions.
“People are the foundation of any business,” he said. “The No. 1 priority for me is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of people; utilize their skills and experience to further our business; provide training and guidance in areas of weakness to promote employees to their maximum capabilities; and encourage collaboration to ensure that the sum of the parts are greater as a whole. My goal is to create an environment of support for everyone, at every level, and provide the tools necessary to further our enterprise in a cohesive manner.”
Wilkins, who recently earned a master’s of business administration from Villanova University, also focuses on business consultation on a daily basis. “We have a network of individuals that call on our locations,” he said. “One of their main jobs is to really engage their dealers.”
One of his favorite aspects of the job is interacting with small businesses. “It is exciting to realize that you have the opportunity to make a difference,” said the exec. “Because of my prior retail experience, I have the utmost respect for the operators at our locations and I take their success personally. A tremendous aspect of my job is to ensure our territory managers and sales team understand that concept and fosters those imperative relationships.”
On a weekly basis, the Mount Laurel, N.J., resident visits CrossAmerica sites. He also meets with Hrinak, Topper and new CrossAmerica president Bergeron to discuss a variety of topics, including what’s “hot” in the business, people, site operations and organizational objectives.
“We have an open dialogue. If there are issues that need to be addressed, we nip them in the bud as they arise,” said Wilkins. “To have effective management, you need to have those conversations.”
Monthly leadership calls with CST CEO Kim Lubel have also been added to the docket. “Our company has extraordinary leadership who are engaged and actively involved with creating solutions,” Wilkins noted.
Thus far, CrossAmerica’s game plan is working. The plan has three main tenets: “We work hard, we care, and we make good decisions through a winning mindset,” he said.
PLENTY OF PLENTI
Wilkins is also heavily involved with the Plenti program via CrossAmerica’s Exxon- and Mobil-branded gas stations. Plenti is a cross-platform loyalty program that allows consumers to earn points at one retailer and redeem them at another. For example, a consumer can fill up their tank at an Exxon station and once enough points are accrued, they can use their loyalty bonus at a participating Macy’s or Rite Aid location.
Launched by CrossAmerica in early May, Plenti is currently in place at 330 locations. “The customer response has been amazing,” noted Wilkins. “Over the course of just a few months, we already experienced tremendous growth in the program’s enrollment and activity.”
Plenti changes the mentality of consumers when they shop, according to the exec.
“With many other loyalty programs, it takes months to earn loyalty rewards. But with Plenti, the idea is to ‘earn and burn.’ So, you earn points in the morning and burn them at night. The goal is to have enough retailers in different industries involved with Plenti so that consumers can essentially utilize those points every day.”
In addition to making customers happy by delivering loyalty rewards, CrossAmerica’s Exxon- and Mobil-branded stations also gain a lot from Plenti as they can track consumer behavior.
Analytics in managing data is such a critical component of establishing a personal relationship with the customer in business today. “The data allows you to see customer behavior and predicts future trends,” Wilkins stated.