What Is The National Coalition’s Role?
The National Coalition bylaws, except for a few minor adjustments years ago, are the same bylaws developed in 1980, the Coalition’s sixth year, under the leadership of then chairman Bill Schuessler. In 1980, 7-Eleven was in the middle of a growth phase and was building some 300 stores a year, which they did for 20 years beginning in 1968. It was a time of growth, rapid expansion and opportunity for both franchisees and the Thompson Brothers, owners of the company.
Thirty-two years later, a reading of the bylaws shows that those early franchisees were incredibly insightful in stating the group’s objectives. Our bylaws mention three main objectives and purposes of the National Coalition: 1) to maintain research and educational programs; 2) to promote, develop and assist 7-Eleven convenience store franchisees in organizing and maintaining effective regional trade associations; and 3) to communicate with 7-Eleven, Inc., and the various regional trade associations and coordinate their efforts for the attainment of a social and economic framework which will enhance convenience store franchising, serve the public, and provide fairness and justice for the 7-Eleven convenience store franchisee.
After all this time, I am amazed by how relevant those words are, especially when franchising, the convenience store industry, and 7-Eleven itself have experienced so much growth, change and innovation.
Today the National Coalition is an association, not a union or an industry trade organization, and we have no contractual relationship with 7-Eleven, Inc. We represent franchisees only at the request of our members, and we find our strength in numbers. The more franchisees join regional FOA groups, the larger the National Coalition grows. Today we have 39 regional FOAs, and over the next several years, due to 7-Eleven’s expansion, we could have 50 franchise owners associations representing approximately 83 percent of the franchisees in the U.S.
According to our bylaws, the role of our local FOA leadership is to have dialog and address local issues with local management and represent franchisees in their local area. If there is a merchandising issue in a particular area, the FOA president in that area should have a relationship with the local SEI merchandising manager and address the fact that the areas does not have the right sandwich selection. By contrast, The National Coalition’s role is to make sure that 7-Eleven’s fresh food program overall meets the needs of franchisees.
When you drill down to the local level, it makes sense for the local FOA to get involved. We can say in Philadelphia we need a Philly cheese steak program, because that is the dominant sandwich in the area. In Chicago we can say the hot dog program should center on Vienna hot dogs and poppy seed buns, which make a Chicago-style dog. In this way, the local FOAs can work with the local management team to get the product assortment right for that area and address local issues, with local management.
The National Coalition’s job is to make sure that we are communicating with senior 7-Eleven management on universal and contractual issues like encroachment, BT, cleanliness and overage packages —the issues that affect all the franchisees in the country. In every National Coalition Board meeting, franchisee leaders look at trends, report on issues in their areas, and trade information on what is happening with franchisees around the country. The CDC flat fee is a good example of this. The flat fee was a national issue that FOA leaders brought to the National Coalition and the National Coalition took to 7-Eleven. We ended up getting the flat fee removed for every franchisee in the country. Getting the pricing right and the product selection right in the local CDC still is the role of the local FOA, but the National Coalition provides a forum to discuss this on a national level.
BT is another example of how the National Coalition works on issues. BT was rolled out in Southern California, reported on in multiple National Coalition Board meetings, then followed up on in over a dozen meetings at the local level in Southern California that included National Coalition officers and FOA leadership. We then took the issue to SEI, delivered the franchisee feedback on BT, and we affected the hybrid model currently deployed in Florida and Texas.
Part of role of the National Coalition is to give the franchisee message to 7-Eleven in a clear, concise way that SEI understands. Over the past three years, we have tried to do this with solution-based feedback. We don’t like the way BT works, but here is the solution that we think works. In the discussions we had with 7-Eleven about the BT program rolled out in Southern California, franchisees had concerns about their inability to source non-recommended items from DSD vendors. Franchisees wanted to continue to use Retailer Initiative to provide guests with the items they want, so we asked for a BT system that uses the vendors currently delivering to the stores. The Southern California BT model and the hybrid are currently under review by 7-Eleven and our vendor partners to in an attempt to better understand the best solution for our stores.
Over the last 37 years, the National Coalition’s convention and trade show has evolved to support our goals of education and the exchange of franchisee information. Our convention is all about business, community, family and building a sense of camaraderie among our members. It is a great opportunity for franchisees to share common ideas, goals and interests, and the experience of what it is like to be a 7-Eleven franchisee. At the 2012 convention in Hawaii we had a fireworks display to celebrate 7-Eleven’s birthday, but the best thing about it was that we could all share in that experience together. Franchisees have that common bond.
The National Coalition’s convention and other activities also give our valued vendors a chance to connect with the people who are making the merchandising and buying decisions that can affect their sales and profits. To any vendor selling to franchisees, the most critical person is the franchisee. Thousands of buying decisions are made every day in stores throughout the system. It is only when the person with the MOT in their hand makes the “carry” or “non-carried” decisions that the product assortment ends up in the store.
For 38 years the National Coalition has been there for the franchisee community, and our bylaws still hold true today. We are serving the same purpose as Bill Schussler and his colleagues. Our biggest asset is our membership base, because regardless of where we are in the country, we are all franchisees, and there is STRENGTH IN NUMBERS. If franchisees rally around a common issue, we DO make a difference.
At the National Coalition we want every franchisee to feel good, every day, about what we do. We want to build security through the exchange of information about our businesses and we want to work with 7-Eleven to build our sales and profits. If our success is really a balance of co-prosperity, 7-Eleven and franchise community must work more closely to ensure the long-term health of the franchise system.