New 7-Eleven Franchisee Chief Speaks Out

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New 7-Eleven Franchisee Chief Speaks Out

By Samantha Negraval, Convenience Store News - 11/01/2013
Joe Galea

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- Two years ago, Joe Galea ran for chairman of The National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees, but fell short in the number of votes needed. Galea, the president of the San Francisco/Monterey Bay Franchise Owners Association (FOA), decided to campaign harder this year, while emphasizing his vision of building a stronger coalition with the members. This time, he won.

CSNews Online spoke with Galea about the election, which took place Oct. 24 during NCASEF's Dana Point, Calif., meeting. Galea talked about his past experiences with 7-Eleven franchisee leadership and what he hopes to accomplish as the Coalition's new chairman.

Galea is certainly not a newcomer to leadership. A franchise owner for the past 41 years, he currently operates one 7-Eleven store in Santa Cruz, Calif. He has been the president of his FOA since its founding in 2006, and represents 185 franchisee members. Previously, the organization was known as the Greater Bay 7-Eleven FOA and Galea served as its president for eight years.

Galea also has four years of experience as NCASEF's executive vice chairman -- two years under former Chairman Dennis Lane and two years under two-term incumbent Chairman Bruce Maples.

"I didn't believe it was a cinch to win it," said Galea. "I have the utmost respect for Bruce Maples, and he and I have been friends for a long time. We share all the same beliefs except the vision of where I see the National Coalition and where our members need to be."

Galea pointed to his experience as executive vice chairman under Lane's term, during which 17 new FOA groups throughout the country. Galea did much of the legwork in bringing these groups on board.

"I think what's helped me to be more in tune for the chairmanship position is that I flew so much through the country, and I engaged with our current leaders and the members. I got to understand -- just with either a one-on-one conversation or even in a group meeting -- their issues and concerns with running their stores and was able to work with them," said Galea. "Franchisees are the backbone of the [7-Eleven] system. And I think I'm just more in tune to that because of what I did for Dennis [Lane] for the two years when I got to know all these people throughout the country."

A key part of the chairman's role is to make sure you're building a team that is supporting each other and can talk very openly about communicating concerns effectively to 7-Eleven Inc., Galea explained. "If you've got that effective communication, we will be much stronger relationship wise," he said.

Concerning NCASEF's communication with 7-Eleven Inc., Galea explained that meetings with corporate representatives are conducted on an as-needed basis. In the past, 7-Eleven has always left the door open for him and he has always been made to feel welcomed. "They [7-Eleven executives] were very helpful and understanding of some of our concerns, and they really worked hard to rectify a lot of that. As long as you keep on doing that, then I think we can make it work," said Galea.

Defending the Independent Contractor

While Galea said he will not be the first chairman to talk about protecting franchisees' independent contractor status, it was a point he emphasized in his campaign pitch. Although franchisees are bound by their agreement with 7-Eleven Inc., they also have certain freedoms, he explained, such as taking advantage of local vendors who offer products that 7-Eleven doesn't recommend. Potentially, a franchisee may be able to find a product that 7-Eleven Inc. can install and recommend to all of its stores.

He feels that newer franchisees coming into the company's system are less inclined to exercise their independent contractor status. "But over time, and with being introduced to other outside vendors, we see that more franchisees are looking at these outside vendors to help them grow their business," he explained.

In recent months, 7-Eleven has been the subject of negative press, from an illegal immigration scandal that resulted in corporate compliance checks, and lawsuits with multiple franchisees, including former NCASEF Chairman Tariq Khan, as CSNews Online reported. Galea said the company will resolve these issues with franchisees, and legal issues between franchisees and 7-Eleven are not a formal topic of discussion at Coalition meetings.

"We [NCASEF] never get involved in it. ... Those types of things are very few and far between -- that's the good thing," said Galea. "I would hope that under my term, those things don't happen and if they are that at least maybe we know ahead of time to try to prevent it."

Going forward, Galea encourages local franchisees to join a local FOA, but that FOAs only form in areas where the groups need to form, since they inherently compete with each other to have a voice in the Coalition.

"The end result is what we all want," said Galea. "We want to grow our business, we want to grow the trademark, and we just want to be recognized as the franchisees that we are and be able to be proud of what we do."

Galea said his leadership style is to allow board members to be confident in making decisions in the moment without him, provided they always report the outcome. He feels this empowers his team and improves the overall relationship.

The San Francisco/Monterey Bay FOA board determined that Galea can retain his role as president, while also leading the Coalition. He will become chairman on Jan. 1, marking a new year and a new era for NCASEF.