Cleanliness Surveys Should Lift Us Up
Franchisees understand the importance of a clean operation. We understand we are competing for customers, and that we need to keep our stores clean to attract repeat business. We understand that if one store isn’t clean or keeping up with established standards, that store impacts all the other 7-Elevens around it because the experience the guest has at that store reflects on all the other stores.
As business people, franchisees take cleanliness very seriously. The look and feel of our stores directly impacts the volume of our business and whether or not customers return to shop in our stores. However, when the company implements a cleanliness program that doesn’t accurately evaluate our stores for cleanliness, and doesn’t help improve the public’s perception of our stores, and instead creates additional labor, work, and stress worries for franchisees, then it’s time for us to go back to the drawing board.
Five years ago, the research firm Market Force conducted surveys on the appearance and cleanliness of several retail chains, and among its peers, 7-Eleven ranked third from the bottom. The survey was based on the perception and preferences of the typical c-store guest picked randomly. The perception wasn’t solely based on the cleanliness of the store, but did include data on the physical plant—how stores “look” from the outside. SEI management realized there was a need for improvement, so the company developed tools to help spruce up our store image, and our guests’ perception of who we are.
The cleanliness program and the forms to evaluate it originated about four years back. Originally the program was a simple tool used to help us measure how clean we were, and it did in fact initially improve cleanliness in our stores. Over time, franchisees and their store associates started to pay more attention to cleanliness and image, and our scores started improving.
Over time, however, the cleanliness survey evolved into a very subjective, punitive, moment-in-time evaluation, which was inconsistent in its application and standards. Evaluators had different interpretations of “clean,” and consequences for the franchisee were added, putting more pressure on stores to score higher. Eventually the program turned into a fix-it-all tool to evaluate all aspects of store operation including ordering, merchandising, employee management, guest experience, and more—altogether a very de- moralizing experience.
What franchisee didn’t cringe when the dreaded GEA evaluator walked into the store? The cleanliness tool had become something much more: a tool to control and manage franchisees.
In the beginning, we had a third party evaluator conducting the GEA surveys. Then responsibility shifted to FCs, and this past February management decided that FCs for each subgroup would do the subgroup evaluation. A new form was rolled out, and it was so detailed, confusing and cumbersome that neither franchisees nor SEI’s own field staff could figure out what was considered a good score! It was impossible to feel good about whatever you might have scored!
As SEI top management put more pressure on franchisees to perform, and on field staff to hold franchisees accountable, we started seeing LONs and breaches being handed out for GEA infractions. In some areas this pressure was greater than in others. Some franchisees claim there was pressure on FCs not to score too high, because if someone re-inspected, there could be consequences for that FC. The GEA survey became something everyone was afraid of. It caused anxiety and frustration all around.
On top of everything else, we have noticed over the last couple of years that even though we’ve focused on cleanliness and have been really pushing it, our efforts have not been rewarded with improved sales nationally. When you have a tool that’s supposed to improve the guest experience, it’s supposed to increase your sales as well, but in our case there seems to be no correlation. We had a great discussion about this at the NBLC, and it was pretty clear that despite the focus on GEA and how it became a big part of our business, it had not helped us improve our sales. Also, we didn’t even know if it helped with how our guests perceived us.
After hearing franchisees loud and clear that the GEA survey was not working and that it was demoralizing and counterproductive, SEI last month decided to go back to the old cleanliness form, with FCs conducting the surveys. This is a positive step in the right direction. Further, the NBLC Guest Experience Subcommittee has been tasked with coming up with a better form that treats all franchisees fairly and takes into account the problems of age and lack of remodeling of our physical plant.
Whether an independent company or our FCs conduct the survey, I think the intent should be to help the store, guide the store, and make it more of a collective evaluation rather than a “gotcha.” The new form is expected to be rolled out early next year, we are all hoping for a tool that is easier to understand, evaluates our businesses as a whole and also includes performance measures that are SEI’s responsibility or obligation. We need a tool, not a whip.