The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

By Jay Singh, Chairman, NCASEF, President, San Antonio FOA

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit us in March 2020, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the impact it would have on our personal and professional lives. Everything pretty much shut down for several weeks except for those businesses deemed essential to everyday life, like grocery and convenience stores. Some people were asked to work from home, while others lost their jobs or were temporarily laid off. Many 7-Eleven franchisees across the country found themselves in a labor tight spot when some employees quit because they didn’t feel safe from infection working in their stores. To this day, many franchisees are still operating short staffed because the pandemic fear has a firm grip on many potential employees.

Besides its affect on our stores, the pandemic has also impacted the NCASEF and how it conducts business. Due to pandemic restrictions limiting the size of gatherings, and nearly all hotels being closed, the NCASEF was forced to cancel all in-person meetings, with our last physical Board meeting being held in February 2020 in Dallas, shortly before the pandemic started. We adapted by holding Zoom videoconference Board meetings, instead. Although these meetings are effective, there’s really no substitute for physical, face-to-face meetings. Still, we carried on, hoping that as we approached the summer months the pandemic would subside enough to at least allow us to have our annual convention and trade show.

Well, that turned out to be wishful thinking. In some parts of the country the pandemic actually worsened, and travel and gathering restrictions stayed in place. We were forced to cancel the convention. The annual convention and trade show is the biggest event of the year hosted by the NCASEF, and franchisees and vendors travel from all over the country to attend and participate. Our 2019 convention in Long Beach, California was our highest attended event ever, and we were hoping to beat that in 2020.

After a long discussion between NCASEF officers and staff, and with the situation still being uncertain in regard to the pandemic, we decided the next best thing we can do in lieu of an in-person convention would be to hold a two-day virtual trade show. This way we could at least still bring our franchisees and valued vendors together. So we contracted an outside company to put the virtual trade show together and set the date for November 17-18, 2020.

The NCASEF Virtual Trade Show (VTS) was accessible via a link on the NCASEF website, and franchisee registration was free. I am happy to announce the event was a resounding success. We had approximately 85 booths, 45 sponsors, 500 franchisees registered, and over 48,000 items ordered. Franchisees were able to view the products and special VTS deals presented by our vendors, place orders, communicate with vendors via live text chat, voice or video, and even download materials like product information and sell sheets.

The VTS also featured a raffle contest with a grand prize of $10,000, a second prize of $5,000 and third prize of $2,500. Additionally, the FOA with the most orders placed by its members was awarded $2,500. Entries into the raffle were gained by placing orders. I would like to congratulate each of the winners: Mangesh Patel of the Central Florida FOA, who won the Grand Prize, Hung (Henry) Nguy of the San Francisco/Monterrey Bay FOA, winner of the Second Prize, and Third Prize winner Linda Brown of the South Florida FOA. The Central Florida FOA won the FOA category with more than 1,675 orders placed by its members. We also awarded a Chairman’s Appreciation Special Prize of $1,000 to the Chesapeake Bay FOA, a 19-member organization that placed 235 orders total and had the highest percentage of participation. Once again, congratulations to all the winners!

Besides exhibiting vendors, we also included a videoconference Legal Seminar hosted by NCASEF General Counsel Eric Karp, who provided an update on the California lawsuit and spoke about other legal issues currently affecting franchisees. Mr. Karp also took questions from franchisee viewers after his presentation. This was a very informative seminar and I am very pleased we were able to offer it in the VTS.

To keep the trade show action going, we reopened the VTS shortly after it closed to allow franchisees another opportunity to place orders. We kept the VTS website open until December 10, minus the ability to communicate live with vendors.

Given the success of our first Virtual Trade Show, we have a planned a second one for February 9-10, 2021. Please visit the NCASEF website soon for more information and to register. I cannot thank our exhibiting and sponsoring vendors enough! We wouldn’t still be in business without their support, and attending our VTS and placing orders is the best way we can show our appreciation.

Without doubt, 2020 was a rough year. But now there is light at the end of the tunnel with the new vaccines making the rounds. Hopefully, the majority of Americans will be vaccinated in short time and we can return to some semblance of the normalcy we enjoyed before the pandemic. If the pandemic situation turns around soon, we will be able to have an in-person Board meeting in May and our Annual Convention and Trade Show this summer, which we have planned for the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Further, the Board meeting we originally had scheduled for Hawaii on November 2, 2020 has been rescheduled for November 2021. I’m sure by then most—if not all—pandemic restrictions will have been lifted. Please visit the NCASEF.com for the latest updates on our Board meetings and annual convention.

In the meantime, please stay safe and don’t forget to register for the February Virtual Trade Show.