What I Know for Sure - Rutter's Insights on Loyalty

With Derek Gaskins, former Chief Customer Officer, Rutter's

As a newcomer to the convenience industry, living outside of the United States, I must confess I wasn't aware of Rutter's when it was first mentioned recently as one of the most respected brands in US loyalty and convenience retailing. A family-run business about to open its 70th convenience store, they are predominantly based in the US state of Pennsylvania, so the brand could be forgiven for quietly running their business locally without trying too hard. Instead they're driving the industry with a focus on excellence that's been described by CSP Magazine as 'beyond ridiculous' - awarding the brand 'record breaking' scores in their most recent mystery shopping awards!

Naturally I was excited to see how their approach to achieving such impressive operational excellence would also benefit their loyalty programme members, so I was delighted with the opportunity last month to chat with Derek Gaskins, who at that time was Rutter’s Chief Customer Officer for over five years, about how he and the team there were focused on changing the game and the industry.

As part of our 'What I Know for Sure' articles on loyalty insights from C-Level executives, Derek was clear what he knows for sure - and it's what every true loyalty marketer knows. It's the critical importance of identifying your MOST valuable customers and make 100% SURE they feel so truly rewarded, that they simply won't go anywhere else! Many brands and businesses focus on customer acquisition, but with top tier customers 'driving the engine of profitability', these are the customers who really matter, followed closely by top potential customers - those who have the potential to join them in that top tier. It's the Pareto Principle in practise, proving to be of immense value to Rutter's, and a clear signal of excellence in convenience loyalty marketing. The Rutter's Rewards loyalty programme is the platform built to capture all of the data and insights needed to delight this exclusive group, who enjoy 'free stuff' and save $.03 per gallon on their fuel purchases everyday. In addition, Rutter’s Rewards customers can earn even more fuel savings by buying any of over 1,800 products inside Rutter's stores. With fuel discounts consistently rated as the most aspirational benefit across all loyalty options, it's clear how customer-focused this programme really is.

From a loyalty technology perspective, I was curious about customer adoption of mobile and app technology. Derek assured me we've 'almost crossed the tipping point' moving customers from traditional plastic loyalty cards to accepting and enjoying the dominance of digital! It's particularly challenging to deliver technology solutions in convenience retail with every fuel pump a point of sale, along with the latest touch screen technology in stores. Fuel pumps can sometimes be in use for up to thirty years, with customer-focused brands keen to satisfy consumer demands for rewards and recognition benefits and deliver cashless and frictionless experiences. Derek was envious of global brands with simpler point-of-sale solutions such as the extra-ordinary adoption of mobile by Starbuck's customers in US and described his own technical challenges as akin to herding cats!

Given the focus on recognising and rewarding customers, I asked Derek how he worked with his partners and suppliers. The convenience industry is characterised by a commitment to sharing best practise, with organisations like NACS created to allow every stakeholder in the business to learn and benefit from what customer's want, as clearly then customers ultimately GET more of what they want. Derek agreed that the industry is highly collaborative, and highlighted recent meetings set up by senior global leaders in both Pepsi and Hershey's who were only too delighted to share and showcase their customer research, technology partnerships and marketing insights so that Rutter's could learn and apply that expertise in their stores. From their side, Rutter's were able to offer insights on market share and basket data on consumer purchasing patterns in stores, as well as opportunities to develop compelling and 'transformative' loyalty campaigns through Rutter's Rewards programme that incentivise product trials for partners and drive top line profit for all. A true win-win-win for everyone!

Perhaps the most fascinating perspective that came through from chatting with Derek was Rutter's innovations in the foodservice category. Already renowned for its dairy heritage and successful own-brand products, Rutter's foodservice category is directed and led by an Executive Chef. Even the positioning in-store is innovative, with the introduction of Chef's Coats to help customer's appreciate Rutter's differentiated proposition in the convenience category.

One key product innovation was the development of the 'Red Bull Smoothie' - developed by observing customer trends for sophisticated hand-crafted drinks in the hot drinks category. These same customers are demanding healthy products like smoothies for nourishment but also need energy . These insights were cleverly combined in the creation of an exclusive product - the hand-crafted Red Bull smoothie - giving customers another reason to consistently choose Rutter's when they're looking for refreshment.

More dramatically, state legislation also opened up the opportunity for Rutter's to operate as an off-license selling alcohol for take-away, so in true Rutter's style, the brand took this a step further and successfully licensed themselves as restaurants! With this came a whole new category of products and positioning, and Rutter's designed a unique experience in the convenience sector, with food pairings and wine tastings for customers. These events were designed to introduce food samples as sophisticated as sea food and also create awareness of Rutter's as the perfect destination for quality wine or beer on the go, the perfect channel for home or party needs, and undoubtedly a whole new profitable business for Rutter's.

On reflection, my favourite insight from Rutter's was its inherent understanding on how profitable businesses are built. As Chief Customer officer, Derek's first priority was to his team, making it easy for them to delight customers.

His equally relentless focus on giving customers what they want (even if they didn't know they wanted it) was a true example of professional marketing expertise in action. Undoubtedly a brand and a loyalty marketing professional to watch.

June 12th 2018 Update

After five years as Chief Customer Officer in Rutter’s, Derek Gaskins has moved on to join the team in Yesway and we wish him every success in his new role.

About Us:

Liquid Barcodes is a leading global loyalty marketing technology company specialized for the convenience store and foodservice industries. Our proprietary cloud-based technology platform allow retailers to create and manage their digital marketing campaigns with a proprietary process we call the “customer connection cycle’ to engage, promote and reward customers activities in real-time across digital and media channels.

How we do it:

We have developed the most advanced loyalty marketing technology platform specifically for convenience store and foodservice retailers globally.

Retailers use our self-service dashboard to create and manage loyalty driven marketing campaigns that increase purchases with their existing customers, as well as effectively target and acquire new customers through partners or paid media channels.

One core component of live loyalty is gamification. We have gamified branding, loyalty and promotions. We believe this approach is essential in order to get customers’ attention and ultimately truly engage them with repeatable actions thereby winning their loyalty.

Check out some of our exciting/proven results here:


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Paula ThomasPaula Thomas LinkedIn

She advises on loyalty strategy, propositions and rewards concepts globally. Her blue-chip portfolio of clients to date includes Telefonica O2 (Priority Moments programme), Electric Ireland, Allied Irish Bank, Avios and The Entertainer Group. Paula is now also Chief Content Officer for Liquid Barcodes- reviewing global loyalty best practice, CEO perspectives on loyalty and innovative ways to drive engagement to achieve live loyalty in the convenience sector. Paula holds an MBA from Smurfit Business School in Ireland and also sits on the judging panel for the global Loyalty Magazine Awards.



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