The Thought Behind The Convention Theme

Michael Jorgensen, Executive Vice Chairman

This year’s NCASEF Annual Convention theme is “Franchisees ARE The Brand.” There is no doubt that 7-Eleven is one of the most recognizable brand names in the world with over 66,000 locations in 17 countries. This theme was not designed in any way to detract from the brand, but some have questioned that this is a bold statement that may upset 7-Eleven corporate leadership. I respectfully disagree. The truth is that FRANCHISEES—not one individual franchisee—are the brand, and no one knows this better than the leadership at SEI. The theme should be a reminder to everyone, both corporate and franchisee, of our significance in building and maintaining the brand and brand image.

Let’s first break down the definition of “brand.” The Economic Times defines a brand as a name given to a product  and/or service that takes on an identity by itself. There is, however, a difference between a “brand name” and a “brand.” In a 2011 Forbes article titled “What is a Brand, Anyway?” Jerry McLaughlin says, “A brand is simply what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.” He goes on to state, “It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering – both factual, and emotional. Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it. It’s fixed. But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.” In its description of brand, the Economic Times further elaborates that, “A brand is akin to a living being, having an identity and personality, name, culture, vision, emotion and intelligence. All these are conferred by the owner of the brand and need to be continuously looked at to keep the brand relevant to the target it intends to sell to.”

When looking at all of the information regarding exactly what a brand is, it should be clear that as the store operators, franchisees are the face of the 7-Eleven brand to the public. Therefore “Franchisees ARE the Brand.”

Symbiosis is defined as a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups. 7-Eleven acknowledges that franchisees already have symbiotic relationships with their communities and is investing together with franchisees to further this relationship. The Project A Game program, a perfect example of this effort, is designed to further build brand awareness, brand loyalty and greater customer engagement, but it can only be successful with the involvement of the franchise community. The relationship franchisees have with 7-Eleven Inc. is a mutually symbiotic relationship, one that benefits both parties. A perfect analogy of a mutually symbiotic relationship, although one in a biological sense, is that of the clownfish and the sea anemone. Each is highly dependent on the other for survival; they share nutrients and benefit from mutual protection from predators. The sea anemone’s tentacles sting and kill any other species, but the clownfish produces a mucus coat that prevents it from getting stung. This allows the clownfish to live within the safe confines of the anemone and avoid exposure to predators. Besides working to further the relationship within the communities, 7-Eleven has also engaged franchisees in lobbying efforts to benefit our business interests. Recent examples include swipe fee reform and proposed changes to SNAP.

The National Coalition’s bylaws state that part of the organization’s purpose is to coordinate the efforts of FOAs to attain a social and economic framework that will enhance convenience store franchising, serve the public and provide fairness and justice for 7-Eleven convenience store franchisees. The National Coalition and FOAs across the country have worked with charitable organizations for more than 40 years. We have given MDA over $82 million through donations and canister programs, and more recently we have raised approximately $70,000 per year at our convention for Swim Across America and St. Jude Children’s Research hospital. Several years ago we organized a cause equity program that raised approximately $732,000 for Hire Heroes USA. Our 43 regional FOAs also regularly donate to local chairities, including MDA, local hospitals, Susan B. Komen, police organizations and victims of floods and hurricanes. We have worked hard to give back to our communities and build goodwill in the name of the 7-Eleven Brand.

Since October there has been no direct communication between NCASEF leadership and SEI leadership, even following the March 14 dismissal of the California litigation. 7-Eleven’s focus following the dismissal instead appears to be an attempt to undermine and weaken the NCASEF, the FOAs and their leadership. There is also talk that, much like the revamping of the NBLC and various SEI committees, there are plans to create or support alternate FOA bodies and even an alternate National Coalition.

This strategy is not going to get us closer to the place we need to be. Even if successful in some areas, the simple fact is it will push franchisees and SEI further apart and cause more lasting damage. In a May 2008 article for Franchising World titled “Commonsense Steps that Franchise Systems Often Fail to Apply,” Mary Brody points out that “for an advisory council to be effective, it must have meaningful input on the issues and must be recognized by the general franchise population as representing franchisee interests. Some franchisors set up a franchisee advisory council consisting of handpicked franchisor favorites whom the franchisor expects to rubber-stamp its decisions. This type of council probably does more harm than good. Regardless of the form franchisee input takes, it will not be effective unless franchisees feel empowered to participate in the present and future direction of the franchise system.”

Why recreate the anemone? NCASEF and FOA leaders have been elected by franchisee members to represent them and their concerns, and to be their voice. Many of these leaders are chosen due to their ability to not only communicate issues and obstacles, but also for their ability to find solutions. We need to get to a place where franchisees and SEI can once again have a mutually symbiotic relationship. We need to get to a place where franchise leadership can again speak honestly to SEI senior management about the concerns of the franchise community and work together to find solutions to move the system forward. The National Coalition and FOAs, even if not always agreeable to SEI, should be seen as necessary to the health of the 7-Eleven system. This is beneficial to the brand, because “Franchisees ARE The Brand.” We are also the clownfish, mucus coat and all.