Charting A Path Forward

By Sukhi Sandhu, NCASEF Chairman

In these turbulent times, being part of the retail industry feels like navigating through a storm. As a 7-Eleven store owner, I know firsthand the challenges our businesses are facing. But if there’s anything I know about franchisees and the 7-Eleven brand, is that we are resilient, and I am confident we can overcome these present hurdles and come out stronger through collaboration and adaptability.

The economic landscape is shifting, with factors like EBT/SNAP benefits adjustments, rising inflation, and soaring grocery prices impacting our customers. Households have less disposable income, leading to tighter budgets and heightened challenges for us to attract and retain customers. We’re also experiencing shifts in legislation and regulations that add more layers of complexity to our operations—like flavored tobacco bans—and market prevailing wages and insurance rates that are increasing so rapidly it’s making it difficult for us to adjust or offset our operating expenses.

To help us make it through this period, SEI’s merchandising team is working with our vendor partners to introduce more “First, Best, Only” (FBO) items and products exclusive to 7-Eleven, aimed at driving foot traffic and distinguishing our stores in the c-store sector. They are also working with vendors on better costs and promotions that are funded (in some cases fully), as well as to ensure the supply chain is running smoothly so our shelves are always fully stocked with the items our customers crave.

Collaboration with SEI and our vendors is pivotal in this endeavor. Together, we’re responding to the economic changes, creating a dynamic product mix offered at the right price that will bring more customers through our doors. These partnerships are vital, allowing us to leverage collective insights and resources to introduce products and promotions that set us apart.

But we as franchisees also have a tool at our disposal that is particularly indispensable at moments like these—the ability to adapt and cater directly to our customers’ needs as independent store owners. As franchisees, we possess the autonomy to make decisions that can significantly impact our stores’ success. Our franchise agreement allows us to order 15 percent outside of the Recommended Vendor Purchase Requirement (RVPR). We can use that to help tailor our stores to our customers’ tastes. We can order from local vendors, try new products as NRIs and SSIs, and adjust the retail pricing on some products to increase foot traffic.

This autonomy allows us to make choices that may differ with the broader corporate recommended strategies, but allows us to exercise Retailer Initiative and customize our product mix to the unique preferences and requirements of our local communities. From introducing regional specialties to adopting new product lines that resonate with our customers, our role as independent operators empowers us to drive sales and attract new shoppers by making decisions that sustain and enrich our stores and the communities we serve.

As franchisees, we’re curators of a retail experience that’s as diverse and dynamic as the customers walking through our doors. By staying attuned to their changing needs and preferences, we ensure our stores remain relevant, welcoming, and vibrant. This approach is not just about survival—it’s about thriving and turning challenges into opportunities for growth and connection.

The recent 7-Eleven Experience event stands as a testament to our collective strength and commitment. Seeing record-breaking franchisee attendance was an impressive and powerful demonstration of our unity and dedication to our brand, and each other. Platforms like the 7EE and our NCASEF convention underscore the importance of collaboration, of networking and sharing ideas, and learning from one another to navigate the complexities of our industry together. They also allow us to see and order the latest hot products from our vendor community that could have huge impacts on our sales and profitability.

As we continue to navigate these uncertain times, let us remember the power we hold as franchisees. Our ability to adapt, to customize our stores to meet the evolving needs of our customers, is our greatest asset. It’s through this flexibility and executing at the higher level innovations like FBOs and exclusive products that we’ll not only weather the current storm, but emerge stronger, more connected, and more resilient.

Before I end this column, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Joe Rossi, our former NCASEF Executive Vice Chair, and Romy Singh, our former Treasurer, for their unwavering dedication and service to our franchisee community. Their contributions have laid a strong foundation for our collective success, guiding us through both challenges and triumphs. They were also pivotal in implementing the new collaborative vision of our organization.

I’m thrilled to announce the appointment of Khalid Asad (Vice President of the Kansas City/St. Louis FOA) and Michelle Niccoli (Vice President of the Rocky Mountain FOA) as interim Vice Chairs of NCASEF. Their diverse backgrounds and perspectives, as well as their experience as franchisee leaders, are invaluable assets to our leadership team and I’m looking forward to working with them.

I want to reiterate my commitment to serving you all with every ounce of energy I have. As we look to the future, let’s continue to embrace our independence and nurture a culture of collaboration between all 7-Eleven stakeholders.