My Two Years As A Chairman Of The NCASEF

BY JAY SINGH, CHAIRMAN, NCASEF, PRESIDENT, SAN ANTONIO FOA

The National Coalition will elect a chairman for the 2020-21 term at the fourth meeting of the year for its Board of Directors, October 22-24 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. By the time you read this, the election will be over, and I may or may not be reelected to the chairman’s position for a second two-year term. Let’s hope I am.

That being the case, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about some of my experiences as chairman, and review and recount some of the things we did during my administration to strengthen the position of franchisees and our dealings with the company.

1. The chairman’s primary role is to ensure that the Board is effective in its task of setting and implementing the company’s direction and strategy.

The chairman and the officers of the Coalition lead, but we do not act alone. Each and every decision that affects all franchisees is voted on by the NCASEF Board of Directors. Throughout my administration the National Board has been more than democratic. We discussed and voted on motions for almost everything: policies, direction, strategy, PR, and even meeting places—whatever was asked of the National Board. In those cases when we needed more information, we did our homework and informed franchisees.

2. During trying times, the chairman and the officers of the Coalition operate at great personal risk. It takes a special kind of person to be chairman or an officer of the National Coalition.

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine wrote these powerful words just before the American Revolution in 1776, and they can surely be applied to our current franchisee/ franchisor relationship.

I took over the NCASEF as Acting Chairman in November 2017 during the fourth quarterly Board meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, and was later elected chairman for the 2018-2019 term. Over the years, I have served on many different SEI/franchisee committees like Business Transformation, Accounting, Asset Protection, the Franchise Select Committee, the Franchisee Advisory Committee, the NBLC, and the CEO Roundtable. For the last five years I also served as an NCASEF Vice-Chairman, or as the Executive Vice Chairman.

Prior to the introduction of the new 2019 Franchise Agreement, the Franchisee Advisory Committee met for 18 months with the SEI team, with no results. The one-year Agreement extension until 2020 was promised at our St. Louis Board meeting, then retracted even before the Boston misclassification lawsuit.

Once the California lawsuit was filed, SEI severed communications with NCASEF leaders. The misclassification lawsuit was filed by four plaintiffs after the National Board passed a motion unanimously to support them during the Nashville, Tennessee meeting. Up until that time, I had great communication with the SEI team.

SEI retaliated in January 2018 by removing all NCASEF officers, and FOA presidents and vice presidents, from the NBLC, CEO Roundtable, and other committees, and stopped communicating with the National Coalition and FOAs.

3. The chairman has a great responsibility to the franchisees who elected him to put his best possible foot forward in dealing with 7-Eleven, vendors and fellow franchisees.

One of the objectives and purposes of the National Coalition, according to our bylaws, is: “To communicate with 7-Eleven, Inc., and with the various regional trade associations of 7-Eleven convenience store franchisees 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.”

At great risk to our own financial status, to our stores and our livelihoods, the current leadership team of the National Coalition has led on principle to oppose certain conditions of the new agreement that will only lead to more control and less profit for franchisees.

4. Franchisees need strong leadership in trying times.

The misclassification lawsuit filed by four franchisees in November 2017 was dismissed by Judge Walter in California’s 9th District Court in March 2018, without waiting for the Dynamex and Jan-Pro cases to be resolved. The California Supreme Court issued the Dynamex decision, changing the criteria for misclassification cases. The Jan-Pro ruling also said that Dynamex applies to franchising. We brought in Shannon Liss-Riordan, recognized as one of the nation’s top plaintiffs’ class action employment lawyers, and appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In February 2019, the judge overturned the dismissal completely, vacated the judgment and sent the case back to lower court with specific guidelines to proceed in the lower court.

Now that stay has been lifted and joint motion in consent by both parties (SEI and franchisee plaintiffs) was filed on October 8, 2019 with a hearing scheduled for January 13, 2020.

Next, in February 2018, SEI filed a trademark lawsuit against the National Coalition that caused us to completely remove the 7-Eleven logo from all our branding, website, advertising, and any other use. The lawsuit was recently settled by both parties, at no financial cost to the National Coalition.

It has been quite a ride, for a chairman and the officers of the National Coalition to deal with three lawsuits.

5. The Role of the chairman is multifaceted. Part cheerleader, part organizer, part administrator, part fundraiser, part good cop, part bad cop. Most of all, the chairman must run the organization as a business, and provide resources for all Coalition activities.

From day one my team and I streamlined the day-to-day work at the national office, with the assistance of a great office administrator. We’ve taken control of a lot of the work that was being sent elsewhere.

My team and I successfully launched the NCASEF Dispatch, which reaches about 3,500 franchisees via email—a first for our organization. In this digital newsletter we include important news and updates, and we also post it on the NCASEF website where franchisees can sign up to receive it via email.

In our first year, we cut down expenses and overspending by $410,000, which resulted in our best balance sheet in the last six years. No limos, no first-class travel, no favors for free rooms. I am a humble man and have worked hard over the years to earn what I’ve got. I don’t need the extras or need to spend someone else’s money. In our last convention, for the first time, we allowed attendees to view our financials and see where and what their dues contribute to.

We have had the best attendance at our meetings and two record-breaking turnouts at the National Convention and Trade Show. We even brought over Japanese franchisees who were able to share information on their franchising of 7-Elevens in Japan and to tour some U.S. 7-Elevens. We have issued a whole set of fact based press releases, we got the Avanti trademark registered for NCASEF, and we approached the Fair Trade Commission in the USA and Japan. We approached the Australian Joint Parliamentary Committee for Franchising, and we organized a lobbying effort at Capitol Hill. Our national officers visited franchisee stores in Japan and found out we have many similar problems with functionality and financial wellbeing.

Late last year we asked our 7-Eleven CEO to open communication with the National Coalition and to date we have received no response. We requested opening of communiation again via email on August 19, 2019, and SEI replied it has the NBLC, ZLC, CEO Roundtable, digital means, and individual franchisees can approach their field consultants, market managers, and zone leaders if they want to speak with company representatives. We will continue to seek open communications with our franchisor.

I believe we can continue to produce good work and “Out of the Box” thought processes to improve the functionality/transparency of this great organization and take it to next level in all aspects.