As Franchisees See It When ‘Everything Old Is New Again’
Australian songwriter and performer Peter Allen—along with his writing partner, Carole Bayer—created a popular all-time favorite song of the ‘70s, the classic “Everything Old Is New Again.” Among the lyrics, which evoke a timeless truth:
Don’t throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
Some believe that art has wisdom to offer the world of business, and this song gives me a glimmer of hope. It has often been said that “art imitates life,” and this verse represents that ideal. While most of the franchise community sees a change in direction with SEI, there are some who still tread cautiously, yet optimistically.
Today’s new is the old. I remember the days when field consultants and market managers were fully engaged in every franchisee’s financial success. They would actually look at the store P&L, Product Movement Analysis, and other reports and then share with franchisees the areas of opportunity. At one time, the scheduled meetings between franchisee and field consultant focused exclusively on making that store better. We even had a name and acronym for it—Individual Store Development Program, or ISDP.
The working relationship was intimate, intense and intent on profitable improvement. The intimate aspect was in the fact that the focus was on the store and the staff. The intensity could be found in that each party (franchisee and field consultant) had a role and responsibility for results. Finally, the intent was profitable improvement on whatever we were working. There were no rules as to what the focus would be; no checklist, no agenda, only that which the franchisee wanted to improve.
In my own case, one project we undertook was to identify, source, stock and merchandise craft beers that showed much promise as an emerging trend. This was nearly 25 years ago, and craft beer was not even on SEI’s radar. We helped get it there. Another example was being on the front end of premium cigars long before the craze peaked. Working with a committed field consultant, we knew our customer demographics and marketed to them. The result—several years of being a destination for high quality, premium imported cigars. We successfully exited the category before the market became flooded with over-priced poor quality products. Unlike many, we never took a markdown or write off from excess inventory of a category at the end of the life cycle.
In my case, I never stopped seeking opportunities to increase sales and profits, but having a partner committed to checklists and “gotcha” meetings made things more difficult. I am beginning to see and hear that field consultants are more engaged in the store’s financial health. Getting rid of checklists and compliance with corporate program documents is a huge step toward returning to the focus on individual store performance and profitability. The challenge here is obvious to franchisees. No two stores are exactly alike; they have different customers, different busy times and even different layouts and equipment. To make large system-wide decisions from a central location will always miss the mark. The best merchandising decisions are always made closest to the customer. Could the return to a zone- or market-based merchandising approach be in our future?
At the 7-Eleven Experience in Las Vegas this year, our CEO announced a program that is designed to bring some relief to the low volume stores. While this is a huge step in the right direction, I had hoped for a bit more dollars and the implementation of the program sooner rather than later, although it is now underway. The old one used to be called the Assured Gross Income (AGI) program.
I’m also seeing more of the old behavior coming back. SEI is now having open discussions with franchisees and National Coalition leadership to address many of the issues facing franchisees. When the NCASEF team met with our CEO and his leadership team, we presented the topics that require immediate attention and some that require attention in the very near future. The buzzword was “holistic”—everything that we discussed was received and inlcuded in a “holistic” review.
While this is all great, we must never be blinded by the futile philosophy that we are just store numbers that can be changed by adding a letter at the end of the number. From a high level perspective it is easy to see stores and franchisees as mere cogs in a great machine, like so many gears and levers waiting to be shifted and moved as part of a grand endeavor.
The truth of the matter is we are fine jewels of a highly complex timepiece—each an important and vital part of a fine mechanism, a wonderfully made creation critically interdependent on the other parts for flawless operation. We need each other, properly aligned and focused, working together, store by store, market by market to remain the premiere convenience retailer. So let us look to the future by honoring those methods of the past that delivered sustainable profitability and growth, methods that engaged both franchisees and field personnel as co-equals pursuing co-prosperity. This pursuit must begin in the store on the floor, and not be an edict from an office in the HQ building. This pursuit must be built on the twin towers of mutual trust and respect.
Again, we seem to be on a good track, but as a franchisee sees it, the proof will be “in the pudding.” Will the low-volume relief cure the bleeding store, and will that store receive a full well-deserved and overdue remodel? I remain cautiously optimistic. I would love to hear your thoughts.
While my last few articles have caused some of my colleagues heartache, I have never had so many positive emails, text messages and phone calls. Thank you for your comments and support.