Fearless Females of Supply Chain: Overcoming the Seeds of Doubt
Love’s Travel Stops & Country Store was founded on the values of integrity, customer focus, strong work ethic, innovation, and perseverance. As part of our “Fearless Females of Supply Chain” Blue Yonder Live series, Blue Yonder’s Chief Customer Officer Susan Beal spoke to Love’s Ashley Gockstetter, Director Customer Strategy, Loyalty & Analytics, and Karlyn Cottle, Manager of Vendor Strategy. You can watch their conversation here.
Susan: Ashley and Karlyn, can you please introduce yourselves, your role and more about Love’s Travel Stops?
Ashley: I am the Director of Customer Strategy, Loyalty and Analytics, which is a very long-winded way of saying we do a lot of things here at Love’s. We like to say we provide highway hospitality. We have over 600 locations in 42 states, and we build new stores every single year, so we are continuing to grow. We’re also one of the largest restaurant operators in the U.S. And we’re one of the fastest growing providers of truck care, which is vitally important to commercial trucking customers.
We’re also a broader family of companies, so we’re vertically integrated as a business. We have a fuel purchasing group called Musket, a fuel distribution group called Gemini, and an alternative fueling business called Trillium. And then we also have financial services and other services for our customers.
Our supply chain team works primarily from our headquarters in Oklahoma City, but we also spend a decent amount of time out in our stores and with our merchandising team. And our merchandising team is actually where we were lucky enough to acquire Karlyn.
Karlyn: I am the Manager of Vendor Strategy, and I have the privilege to work with 12 different departments within Love’s. What we work and collaborate on is improving processes and making system enhancements that ultimately support our core customers at our over 600 different locations. We make sure that our store teams are receiving the products that they intended to receive at the prices that we intended it to be set at. So that way our core customer can purchase those goods with flawless execution while being greeted with friendly faces and experiencing clean restrooms and store environment – something we are known for!
Susan: One of our goals with the “Fearless Females of Supply Chain” series is to encourage more women to go into supply chain. Is this a job that either of you thought you were going to have growing up? If not, how did you find yourselves in this space?
Ashley: It’s not something I dreamed of as a child, but I do really enjoy making order out of chaos. And if anyone has been following supply chain over the past few years, that is the world that we live in day-in-and-day-out. Supply chain has offered me so many great opportunities. One of the reasons I chose to move my family from Chicago to Oklahoma City to take the role with Love’s is because this is a place where they empower their leaders to influence change. Based on my past roles, I was really eager to work in a retail environment where I could leverage my experiences and also really be able to enact positive outcomes.
Karlyn: I grew up wanting to be a mom to three boys and a professional businesswoman. After 20 years in retail, I found that it’s a natural fit for me to improve processes that are dysfunctional. So, if there are teams that are not working in collaboration with each other, then my servant leadership kicks in and helps to empower those different teams, make their voices heard, and fix the gaps. Landing in this position at Love’s and being able to empower the supply chain team with the support that we are building with Blue Yonder to forecast and replenish the goods that help support our customers is a thrilling piece to this long journey that I’ve been on.
Susan: What does diversity and inclusion mean to you both personally and professionally?
Ashley: For me, diversity and inclusion isn’t just about ensuring space from a demographic profile standpoint, but also ensuring space for everyone’s voices. So not just headcount and quotas, but also embracing different disparate points of view. This is where the benefit of having a diverse approach really comes to fruition and can impact the outcomes of your business. When we’re recruiting, we’re not just thinking about who that individual is, but also their personal and professional experiences that can help complement the existing skill sets and experiences of our team. We have leaders who have grown from within Love’s that have our can-do entrepreneurial spirit. We’ve also sourced team members from our other business units, such as the family of businesses I referenced earlier and from other departments, such as accounting or finance. We take the approach of being able to teach someone the skills and disciplines that they need to help us manage our efforts and supply chain. In turn, we benefit from their experiences and their diversity of thought and background. We also ensure we are enabling our existing team members to learn from those new individuals on the team.
Karlyn: It’s important to make people know that they matter, that their voice matters no matter what gender or race they are. We all make an important contribution to the work we do. I’m inspired by a quote from JFK: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If you do your work, you will generate forward momentum, which ultimately impacts everything that you do, as well as other around you – whether it’s in your home environment or work. We all have an important role to play and can make a huge impact.
Susan: There are definitely still obstacles in this space, so what would you say are the obstacles that others need to be aware of?
Ashley: In the past, it may have been more challenging to recruit a diverse set of employees, based on the market that you’re in. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that with the benefits of remote and hybrid work. This has allowed us to embrace, for certain roles, more diverse backgrounds thanks to being able to recruit people from different parts of the country. This is a challenge that we are starting to overcome in a lot of ways. And the other existing challenge is upward mobility, specifically the presence of diversity from an executive leadership standpoint, which is something you see at a lot of companies. While companies are making good strides in increasing diversity at the team member or mid-manager level, there is still a challenge rising up to the executive level. My hope is that as diversity is seen as increasingly important and businesses talk about it that it changes, especially as new generations come into the workforce. It’s all of our responsibility to continue to encourage that diversity in leadership, contribute to it in any ways we can, and feel empowered to push for it.
Karlyn: One of the biggest obstacles, especially for women, is that they have this seed of doubt that they haven’t met every single criteria for open job opportunities, so they think that they shouldn’t apply. They will balance themselves on what their workload looks like at home (for example, family commitments) and question if they can take on more responsibilities? That doubt begins to plant the seed, which then starts to sprout and then they will not even apply. As companies are investing in the future, they need to think through how they get people over that doubt and provide structure for career advancements. If you doubt any aspects of your life, write down those doubts, think through them, and trust that you have already stand on a solid foundation, which is the basis from which you can continue to strive. I can promise you a man has been conditioned to go after those positions because he’s supposed to take the lead no matter if it’s in the workforce or also in the home life. Women can do the same exact thing. Just trust that you already have the experience underneath your belt to go for it.
Susan: What advice would you give to women who maybe have that seed of doubt or who are struggling with, “Is this really the right fit for me”?
Karlyn: I know this firsthand. I suffered a tragedy last year when my husband passed from pancreatic cancer. I was suddenly faced with being a single mom to three boys who still need to thrive. I was looking at myself as a fearless female in the workplace, having the seed of doubt starting to fall on me. I had to create a mission statement for myself. What’s my mantra? What is it that I have to contribute to the workplace while keeping my core foundation solid in my home life? I’m very, very lucky. I have a brilliant boss, Ashley, and we have top-down leadership that believe in forward progression and the diversity of our entire team.
Some of the advice I would give is to take an assessment test, such as the Myers-Briggs test or the Clifton Strengths test, or take courses that will reveal your core strengths and leadership style you possess. I would highly encourage you to reach out to others to seek counsel and advice, i.e., a mentor. Look for leaders with a leadership style you would like to emulate and request a coffee chat with them. Ask them to provide you with constructive criticisms that might possibly give you insight or fuel to help you continue to progress forward in your career.
Ashley: It’s important to feel empowered to be an expert. Think about your experiences and feel confident to be a subject matter expert in what you’re working on. And in tandem with that, I can’t understate the importance of developing your influence skills. It doesn’t matter what discipline you’re in, what job you’re trying to do, or what job you want to do next, being able to influence others is key, particularly in supply chain. A lot of times you are in a support function, so being able to identify who your audience is and flexing your style based on who you’re working with is important. Stop thinking about just the things you’re trying to accomplish and put yourself in the shoes of the other person that you’re supporting / working with to understand their priorities. Also, be open minded to new approaches and building your own expertise. But don’t waiver and recommend what you believe is best for the business to succeed. You should feel confident that you’re the expert and you should own that to use it in your favor as you think about influencing others to go on that same path.
Susan: It sounds like Love’s has a really great culture. If someone is interested in joining your organization, are there opportunities?
Ashley: We’re always hiring because we build 30 or 40 stores a year. You can find different career opportunities at jobs.loves.com. If you’re looking for a place to work where you have autonomy and you can really influence change, this is definitely the right place for you. As long as you can keep your head above water with lots of changing priorities and lots of new things that are always popping up, it’s a great, fun place to work.