GEA: The Power Of The ClipBoard
The idea of store inspections to improve overall cleanliness is not new. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Southland Corporation (the predecessor to SEI) would send employees to every 7-Eleven store unannounced to perform store cleanliness inspections. Back then the company realized the best way to get franchisees to follow new policy was to use the carrot rather than the stick. The carrot in this instance was a two percent rebate on the store’s gross profit the following month if it scored well in the cleanliness inspection. The then-current management understood the value of rewarding productivity, namely cleaner stores, with higher sales and greater gross profit dollars.
Fast forward to the current SEI management team. Several years ago SEI noticed same store sales were increasing, but customer counts and gross profits were decreasing. The company believed one of the causes for this trend was store cleanliness. Most franchisees would agree that stores need to be clean and there are opportunities for improvement in this area. The difference this time, however, is the carrot was replaced with the stick—instead of being rewarded for maintaining a high level of cleanliness in their stores, franchisees now face the dreaded Letter of Notification (LON), or ultimately the Breach Notice, for failing inspections.
Over the last few years the store cleanliness evaluation has gone through several manifestations. It now has morphed into the Guest Evaluation Assessment (GEA). Besides focusing on store cleanliness, the GEA auditor also measures a host of operational criteria. Many of these measurements have little to do with the customer experience. Our customers do not care about the how or the when or the mechanics of the product ordering process, they only care that their favorite 7-Eleven has the products they want when they enter the store.
Making these cleanliness evaluations even more stressful for franchisees is the fact that many feel the GEA auditors are being used by SEI’s Merchandising and Operations Departments as a tool to intimidate them into participating in programs. Adding to the pressure, for those franchisees looking to buy additional stores, the Multiple Store Criteria relies heavily on the scores from the GEA auditors. Also, market managers and field consultants are evaluated by the scores these auditors issue to stores. All of this seems to translate into a disproportionate interest in the GEA scores a franchisee receives versus finding opportunities to increase sales and gross profits.
As if the above weren’t enough to crush franchisee morale, the GEA auditors are entry-level employees. They are generally hired off the street without regard to their previous experience in a 7-Eleven store or in a retail operation. Also, the “calibration” they receive can vary across country. The auditors seem to have no understanding of the ebb and flow of the customer traffic and the time necessary for a team of sales associates to recover from peak sales times. A store condition does not correct itself just because the last person on a bus leaves the store, the last van full of day workers pulls out of the parking lot, or the last of over 140 coffee customers in a single hour coffee rush exits through the door. The canned reply seems to be, “Do your customers care?” Yes, they do care, but they also know how their 7-Eleven store appears the other twenty-three hours of the day.
Former auditors have told of the pressure exerted to continually find new opportunities to “improve” the store conditions. There is one report of an auditor looking for a half hour to find something wrong in a store to avoid awarding a 100 percent score. The auditor finally spotted a piece of tape thirty feet up in the exposed beam ceiling on a section of ductwork! It is very disconcerting that an entry-level SEI employee with no understanding of the business can determine the destiny of any franchisee.
Franchisees agree cleaner stores attract more customers, and are more than willing to keep a high standard of cleanliness, especially as 7-Eleven works to become a fresh food destination. However, using the GEA as a punitive tool does little to boost franchisee productivity and morale.