DES MOINES — Yesway saw its convenience store footprint double in the past year, leading the chain to be one of the standouts of the 2019 Convenience Store News Top 20 Growth Chains ranking, but not all of the company's growth is brick-and-mortar.
The retailer also has been busy launching new initiatives to boost its overall offering. Key pillars of growth include its loyalty program and private-label portfolio.
"Both are engines that help us drive consumer engagement in newly acquired stores and communities," Derek Gaskins, Yesway's senior vice president of merchandising and procurement, told Convenience Store News.
Yesway takes a three-tiered approach to private label. Tier one is positioned as a value to national brands, tier two is as good as national brands, and tier three delivers differentiation that is better than national brand equivalents.
"Our marketing and merchandising teams are committed to developing a robust pipeline of private-label products that will resonate with consumers," Gaskins explained.
Yesway started with private-label water in the summer of 2018, and then extended that in both pack and form size. In the fourth quarter, the chain built upon that base by introducing an array of packaged bakery and bagged candy products. The new items have delivered strong sales and margin growth, according to Gaskins. In fact, demand beat Yesway's forecasts, leading to some supply issues.
Additional private-label products are now in development as well.
"Our current queue includes other immediate-consumption categories and high-velocity products such as lighters, chocolate candy, salty snacks, meat snacks and more," Gaskins shared with CSNews.
"The rapidly growing portfolio delivers strong margins, while helping us better establish our brand with consumers in the communities we serve," he added. "Every Yesway-branded product that leaves the store becomes a walking endorsement for our brand."
Creating More Value
Yesway is committed to creating increasing value for its customers. Its loyalty program, Yesway Rewards, is another key strategic platform for the brand.
"When we acquire and convert stores to the Yesway banner, our team members and customers drive participation [in Yesway Rewards] through word of mouth," Gaskin said. "Loyalty then becomes a much more efficient means to engage with our shoppers and deliver compelling value based on their transactions, category affinities and shopping behaviors."
The company is constantly looking for ways to tweak and improve the program. "We continue to refine our roadmap to enhance our loyalty program to create even more value," the senior VP noted.
For instance, Yesway recently partnered with Koupon Media to enhance its loyalty virtual wallet. This allows Yesway to offer customers even more manufacturer-funded offers, and provides age authentication technology that is crucial to delivering age-restricted product categories such as tobacco, beer and lottery, according to Gaskins.
"Our loyalty program is a powerful tool as we can segment customers and target personalized offers, savings, prices and rewards that drive sales and visits," he said.
In 2018, the retailer also launched a pilot program for YesPay, a low-cost payment option within its Yesway Rewards program that's designed to drive both fuel savings for consumers and swipe-fee savings for Yesway's operations.
"We are excited to continue to deliver value through our virtual loyalty wallet, mobile ordering, payments and gamification as we continue to evolve the program to meet customer needs," said Gaskins. "We have now rolled out loyalty to our entire portfolio and have vendor-funded fuel rewards, category clubs and consumer sweepstakes to drive penetration, registration and conversions inside our stores.
"Yesway Rewards and our private-label portfolio will continue to be engines of our growth and deliver compelling, targeted value to the communities we serve," he concluded.