Communication Is A Two-Way Street
One of the hallmarks of great companies is effective communication. Communication is defined as the exchange of information between people. It is interesting to note the definition includes the word “exchange,” as communication is the sharing of information, not the downloading of information.
Since the advent of SEI’s “Project E,” the exchange of information between corporate and the franchise community seems to be lacking. In many instances it even appears there is too little or no information coming to franchisees. Traditionally, the field consultant has been the source of information essential to franchisees and store operations. Now the field consultant spends only a few minutes with franchisees on operational issues and then spends the rest of the time implementing the merchandising objectives for the week. No one argues against the importance of building sales and gross profits, but franchisees are faced with daily obstacles and issues that demand immediate attention and answers.
With Project E it seems communication mainly consists of notification downloads via email on 7-Connect. This is a great way to disseminate information to stores, but it is not communication. The exchange of information is lacking because franchisees are not allowed to “reply” to these emails to get their questions answered. Instead, a franchisee must call their field consultant, whose usual response is that they will try to obtain the answer at the Tuesday National or Zone communication meeting.
The normal procedure for distributing price changes to the stores is via the weekly NPI packet. This process requires at least three weeks of advance planning. Obviously, not all manufacturers or suppliers play by 7-Eleven’s rules, as witnessed by emergency tobacco or confectionary price changes franchisees get with sometimes one day’s notice. These price changes are understandable. What is not comprehensible is the price change forms listed on the POS register up to a week after the price change became effective. This unproductive communication frustrates storeowners, and creates undue work for them.
Franchisees are also frustrated with the lack of information when suppliers come to the store and announce changes that have not been previously communicated by SEI. These may be changes to distribution schedules, changes in packaging or pack sizes, or changes to schematics or plan-o-grams. Calls to the field consultant often result in a deafening silence. While franchisees are independent contractors, and make the merchandising and purchasing decisions for their stores, they are also paying SEI for its expertise and guidance. Franchisees expect SEI to have their back and to be resourceful in reaching the best business decisions for their stores. It seems field consultants are as surprised as franchisees of the information received at the store level from suppliers that should have come from the Store Support Center. To many it appears SEI has abrogated its communication responsibilities on behalf of its suppliers and vendors.
Franchisees are reporting they are not getting any notice prior to contractors appearing at the store to begin work. When a schedule has been given to the store, the schedule is not followed. LED lights are installed with no scope work delivered to the store, yet the franchisee is expected to sign off that the installation was completed. Equipment is replaced without advance notice. Gasoline tanks are removed from service without the slightest mention to the franchisee that a problem ever existed. Inspections and store surveys by third parties are demanded by individuals without credentials or a letter of introduction from SEI, and many times are conducted late at night or on weekends when no one at SEI can authenticate the validity of the demand. In this era of increasingly sophisticated scams, it is prudent for every franchisee to question these unanticipated intrusions. In many instances, not only do the field consultants not have foreknowledge of these events, the market managers are also unaware.
It is unfathomable that something so simple like communication—the sharing of information between two individuals—has become so difficult. This is the electronic age. In milliseconds it seems the entire world can know of an event. Franchisees should be able to get news about inspections or changes being made to our individual stores before they happen.