Franchisees Optimistic at the 2019 7-Eleven Experience
LAS VEGAS — Despite a rallying cry by the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees (NCASEF) to boycott the convenience store giant’s annual convention, the recent 2019 7-Eleven Experience saw record attendance.
According to Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc., this year’s conference drew a record participation of more than 4,500 7-Eleven franchisees and their guests, and a total attendance of 8,500-plus. The multi-faceted event, held in Las Vegas, consisted of a trade show, expo, Product Assortment Learning Center (PALC) and model store.
Hundreds of experts were on hand from 7-Eleven’s corporate Store Support Center to answer franchisees’ questions on such topics as digital enhancements, new programs, and equipment for simplifying store operations.
During the event, Convenience Store News had the opportunity to conduct exclusive interviews with several 7-Eleven franchisees, touching on a wide range of subjects.
Franchisee Kiran Hussain, Los Angeles
Kiran Hussain, franchisee of six 7-Eleven stores in the Los Angeles area, has been in the business for almost 10 years, but her family got it started 40 years ago.
“It’s a great family business and it gets better every year,” she told CSNews.
Hussain noted that “at least 30-40 percent of customers in my stores know my name and that’s very important to me. We don’t serve coffee directly to customers, but we have a personal connection whereby when they’re customizing their coffee at the coffee station, we ask them about their kids, grandkids and how the college applications are going.”
She is excited about this year’s big focus on digital.
“I’m a millennial, so I’m all about ordering online and making things convenient,” Hussain said.
She also likes how 7-Eleven’s private brands keep getting more and more innovative. She specifically pointed to the doughnut holes, car cups and take-home ice cream.
In her stores, Hussain has increased the private brand selection and space devoted to it by about 10 percent. The resulting increase in sales, she said, has been “in the neighborhood of 8-13 percent, depending on the store.”
When asked what challenges she came to the event looking to solve, Hussain said staffing is top of mind because the labor market right now is “very tough.”
“It’s been harder to find good staff. So, I’m here looking at what operational efficiencies I can find to make their job easier, so my onboarding doesn’t take that long. Things like order inventory, checking inventory, more self-audits, making sure we keep inventory in our stores,” she said.
In her opinion, the best thing she saw at the convention was new proprietary beverages.
“Lots of stuff with the fountain and creative Slurpee options,” she said.
Franchisee Soyan Patel, Detroit
Soyan Patel, who franchises two stores in the Detroit area, knows of the importance of beverages. Not only is Detroit the “Slurpee Capital of the World,” but Patel’s Lincoln Park, Mich., store is 10th in the nation for Slurpee sales, he said.
“When we had 15-degree weather with negative 15-degree wind chills, kids and customers were still coming in for Slurpee drinks,” he told CSNews. “They were bundled up waiting for them. We joked that we were more reliable than the post office since it and the banks were closed. But we were open for business, selling a slew of Slurpee drinks.”
Patel believes that kind of customer satisfaction and loyalty is attributable to the innovation he’s able to provide, including a lot of local items. Since 2014, his stores have been selling regional Slurpee flavors in partnership with local soda company Vernors.
“We experienced a huge spike in sales when it came out, and 7-Eleven continues to think of new ways to incorporate regional influences for us,” he noted.
7-Eleven has a team dedicated to sourcing local and regional products for franchisees. Another popular local product is traditional Polish paczki, a bakery item that customers wait in line for to celebrate Fat Tuesday. Paczkis are now conveniently available at 200 7-Eleven stores in Michigan. 7-Eleven partners with a local bakery to make the fresh, never-frozen items. This year, 7-Eleven sold about 10,000 dozen paczkis.
When asked what challenges he came to the event looking to solve, keeping products in stock during storms was top of mind for Patel. He hoped to solve some of the issues by meeting with his local partners at the show.
As for the best thing he saw at the convention, Patel said it was artificial intelligence (AI) data capabilities, which he believes is going to be revolutionary.
“There’s a lot of stuff happening in the digital world to make our lives simpler as owners. AI is going to revolutionize us in ordering,” he said. “Automatic ordering frees up my labor hours so that I can concentrate on my customers and what they like and want that’s different. It will allow me to focus more on innovation.”
Franchisee Jessica Fischer, Virginia Beach
Jessica Fischer, franchisee of six stores in the Virginia Beach area, is a veteran 7-Eleven operator, having been in business for 42 years now.
She is excited about all of the initiatives happening around simplification.
“Ever since I’ve been with 7-Eleven, the dream has been store simplification and now, it’s here,” she said. “It’s not just ordering. It’s not just one aspect. It’s all the different facets of our business, from the way we ring up, to the way we grow our customer base. It’s ordering and knowing what to buy. It’s easier training and being able to transmit payroll to six stores in 10 minutes.”
Fischer praised the 7-Eleven National Business Leadership Council (NBLC), which facilitates collaboration and problem-solving between franchisees and company leaders. The group, which consists of 7-Eleven Store Support Center leaders and about 60 franchisees, Fischer included, meets three times a year to help bring the c-store giant even further into the future.
“We talk about the issues we’re having, as well as the opportunities and ways to solve them,” she told CSNews. “We’re dedicated to working with franchisees at the store level.”