Our Journey So Far

By Sukhi Sandhu, NCASEF Chairman

Over the past two years, leading the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees (NCASEF) as its chairman has been an enlightening and transformative experience. When I first stepped into the role of chairman, I was greeted by an organization in need of significant change. My focus was clear: to steer NCASEF away from the political arena it had inadvertently entered and towards a new mission: working with all store’s and NCASEF’s stakeholders to improve the system.

Our first major undertaking was to overhaul our operational framework. We restructured how meetings are conducted—creating a more effective and efficient environment—and transformed the very culture of NCASEF. We moved away from a politically charged atmosphere to one where business discussions are center stage. System issues and concerns are now addressed head-on, and we opened constructive dialogues with our franchisor so we could work together to enhance our brand.

Our interaction with vendors saw a significant shift, as well. We expanded our Affiliate Program membership, embracing companies big and small, and recognized the unique opportunities our 7-Eleven stores could leverage. This expansion was both in numbers and in the quality of relationships we built. Our focus was to create a symbiotic environment where vendors, franchise leaders, and SEI could network and discuss business, cultivating a sense of community and mutual growth.

The increase in engagement wasn’t confined to the national level—local FOAs experienced a newfound vibrancy, as well. Our approach was twofold: firstly, to support the local FOAs more actively than in previous years, and secondly, to ensure our national initiatives resonated at the store level. This effort was evident over the last two years in local FOA trade shows and the national convention, which saw record attendance and participation from both franchisees and vendors. It was a clear indication of the renewed trust and enthusiasm within our brand.

Financially and operationally, we made strides in addressing significant challenges. One of our notable achievements was the resolution of the AR Gap. This issue had been a thorn in the side of our franchisees, distributors, and 7-Eleven corporate, complicating financial management and operational efficiency. Through collaborative efforts and open dialogue with SEI the AR Gap was resolved and Store Check-In Simplification was deployed, thus simplifying the financial aspects of running a 7-Eleven store, and providing peace of mind and stability to our franchisees.

Another significant achievement was working with SEI to create a captive insurance program, tailored specifically for our franchisees. In an industry where liability insurance is a significant concern, especially now with many insurance companies opting not to continue BOP insurance for c-store owners, this initiative offers a sustainable and beneficial alternative to conventional insurance options. Our captive insurance program, called National Captive Insurance Solutions (NCIS), is owned by franchisees and administered by insurance firm Marsh. Its purpose is to provide coverage and value for our stores, and not to make a profit. It’s also a statement of NCASEF’s commitment to the welfare and stability of our franchise community.

Understanding the challenges of employee acquisition and retention in the retail sector, we also introduced perks that franchisees can offer to attract new employees and retain current staff. Benefits like comprehensive employee health insurance and special mobile phone service prices via a partnership with T-Mobile has helped to alleviate labor issues for many franchisees, and with the help of SEI we introduced the Paradox talent recruitment platform at a very reasonable price.

Our relationship with SEI underwent a remarkable transformation during my tenure. We focused on building a partnership based on open dialogue and mutual respect. This was not about one party asserting dominance over the other, it was about finding common ground and working towards shared goals. By improving these relationships, we managed to eliminate the previous discomfort and hesitancy surrounding joint initiatives, leading to successful outcomes.

A hallmark of my tenure as chairman has been the establishment of NCASEF committees, a significant accomplishment that has fundamentally reshaped our organization’s approach to problem-solving and strategic planning. These committees, composed of dedicated and knowledgeable Board members, have been instrumental in identifying and addressing critical issues within our system. They function as think tanks, bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise to tackle everything from operational challenges to vendor relations. The success of these committees underscores our commitment to collaborative and inclusive leadership, setting a new standard for how we operate and advance as an organization.

In addition, our focus on retail initiatives has been unwavering. We’ve always been on the lookout for the “next big product,” akin to the success stories of Red Bull and Monster, which started as Non-Recommended Items (NRI) in our stores and serve as perfect examples of retailer initiatives. This mindset has been fundamental in keeping our brand dynamic and ahead of market trends.

Among the other pivotal changes over the last two years was the emphasis on encouraging franchisee participation in key SEI events and committees. For instance, the 7-Eleven Experience (7EE). Recognizing the immense value in this event, we actively encouraged our franchisees to attend. Our view is that the 7EE is not merely a corporate event, but a platform for learning, networking, and gaining insights into the latest 7-Eleven trends and practices. By promoting a greater sense of involvement and ownership, we saw record attendance from the franchise community at last year’s event.

Moreover, we placed significant emphasis on the involvement of franchisee leaders in SEI-led committees, such as the National Business Leadership Council (NBLC). This involvement is crucial as it provides a voice for our franchisees in decision-making processes and allows for a more collaborative approach to addressing challenges and opportunities in our business. By participating in these committees, our leaders could directly contribute to and influence key business strategies, ensuring that the interests of our franchisees are well-represented and aligned with the broader objectives of 7-Eleven. Our FOA leaders are equally encouraged to participate in any of the numerous NCASEF committees that engage regularly with SEI directors and managers to resolve store issues.

This strategy of increased involvement and engagement has been a cornerstone of my tenure. It’s not only about being part of the conversation, it’s about shaping the future of our franchisees and the brand as a whole.

Perhaps one of the most heartfelt changes we implemented was our approach to charity. Before our administration, there was no significant engagement in charitable activities that connected with local FOAs and the stores themselves. We bridged this gap by partnering with Children’s Miracle Hospitals, ensuring that not only 100 percent of our fundraising proceeds go to the cause, but also that the impact of our charitable efforts is felt at the local level with area children’s hospitals benefitting. This initiative is a testament to our belief that a responsible organization must be an active member of its community.

As we stand on the cusp of more changes and advancements, it’s crucial to reflect on the other areas where we’ve made a significant impact. For instance, our efforts in legislative engagement have been substantial. We didn’t shy away from taking a stand on critical issues like swipe fees, credit card charges, and tobacco laws. Our collaboration with government affairs teams and vendors at various levels—local, city, and state—has been pivotal in addressing the legislative challenges that our business faces.

Additionally, the transformation within our national convention has been remarkable. We revolutionized our trade show ordering system, enhancing its accuracy and reliability, which in turn boosted vendor confidence and increased order volumes. It also allowed stores to take advantage of products at discounted costs. This was a tangible improvement that benefited both franchisees and vendors.

Perhaps one of the most significant shifts under my leadership has been the change in our collective mindset. We’ve embraced a culture of positivity and solution-oriented thinking. We’ve actively combated negativity, choosing instead to see the glass as half full. This attitude has been infectious, permeating every aspect of our operations and significantly impacting our relationships with franchisees, vendors, and SEI.

Looking ahead to the challenges of 2024 and beyond, our mindset remains unwaveringly positive. We understand the complexities of our industry—the inflationary pressures, the changes in consumer spending, and the need for operational efficiency. Yet, our approach is to face these headwinds together, as a unified force. We are committed to working with our vendors to maintain competitive costs, thereby ensuring the best execution of promotional activities and product movements.

The future does hold challenges, but it also holds immense potential. We’ve made it our mission to be at the forefront of industry innovations, whether it’s in product categories, store operations, or customer engagement. Our focus is not only on navigating the present, but also on shaping the future of our brand and taking it to the next level.