Honesty, Integrity And Trust
It is election time again at the National Coalition, and it’s a good time to think about where we are and where we are going. Every two years the National Coalition Board elects half of its executive team. Last year we held elections for the three vice chairman positions, and by the time you read this, at the October Board meeting we will have elected the chairman, executive vice chairman and treasurer.
As we approach this election I am reminded of events of the past year and all the hard work we have put in working on franchisee issues and the 7-Eleven system. I believe absolutely that franchisees form the heart and soul of the 7-Eleven system, and that the National Coalition represents the franchisee community.
Earlier this year when news broke of problems at some northeastern 7-Elevens, my first reaction was one of great concern. I wondered if this could be a widespread problem and how it would affect our system, our customers, and our brand’s reputation.
It is clear from the writing of our first bylaws that honesty, integrity and trust have long been cornerstones of the franchisee mindset, and the basis of the National Coalition. As storeowners and small businessmen we get involved in our communities, our local governments and our schools. Oftentimes, a neighborhood store can help stabilize a community. We sponsor sports teams, and we contribute to events. We sponsor clothes and food drives, and we donate to local schools and many, many charities: MDA, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, the American Cancer Society, Susan G Komen for the Cure, local hospitals, Duchenne’s, and many, many more.
Throughout the 30 states in which 7-Eleven operates, 7-Eleven franchisees are known in our communities as honest and hardworking, and among the first to pitch in during times of disaster, too. By and large we are successful because we get involved. We know our customers by name, and we grow our businesses by being connected to our customers and our communities.
When news of the trouble in the Northeast broke, we released the following statement, which reflects the language in our bylaws:
“Members of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees pledge to observe the highest standards of competency, fairness, and integrity in the conduct of their relations as franchised owners of 7-Eleven stores. Every franchisee is an independent contractor, and solely controls the operation of their store(s). The National Coalition expects every member of our organization to operate their stores in an ethical and honest manner, in accordance with all U.S. laws and consistent with the 7-Eleven franchise agreement.”
We still operate, and will always operate, by these principles. We must expect the highest standards of all our franchisee members at all times. It is the only way we can compete in our industry and maintain successful relationships with customers, our vendors, our employees and 7-Eleven.
In 2013, the 7-Eleven franchised system outpaced the largest competitors in the industry. We passed Couche Tarde/Circle K (5,200 stores) by 2 percent in merchandise sales growth, and 2 percent in margin. A lot of this comes back to the franchisees, our reputations, and knowing our neighborhoods and our stores.
Today, 7-Eleven’s emphasis on store growth, cleanliness, and fresh and hot foods continue to challenge the franchisee community. Every day at the National Coalition we continue to work on issues that affect franchisees and our businesses.
Hot foods is a great program but we need to improve profitability. We will have trouble being successful in the hot foods category if we sell products below our average store margin. We have a large investment of time and labor, and we need a program that gets the margin up over 50 percent to fill the void left by the decline of tobacco.
GEA used to be a measure of what the customer saw. Today it is used as a snapshot for store cleanliness. I’m pleased to say SEI is reworking the GEA form, but we are still concerned because the GEA bar keeps moving, and franchisees often don’t know where the bar is. A moving target is unfair to franchisees, and transforms into a communications issue.
Once, as a young franchisee I visited the Anheuser Busch brewing plant. I was lucky enough to see above the door a sign that has stuck with me for my entire career: “Our business is making friends.” I believed this then, and I believe it now. Honesty, integrity and trust are a large part of the equation.