Sleepless Nights, Exuberant Days for 7-Eleven Franchisee

Two years after being handed the keys to his store on “Oprah”

RICHARDSON, Texas -- Two years ago, Igor Finkler was promised his own 7-Eleven store after a serendipitous meeting with chain CEO Joe DePinto during the filming of an episode of the “Undercover Boss” reality TV show. Today, Finkler is “is the man behind the register. The guy who cleans the bathroom and mops up spills. The one who’d be easy to ignore” at his convenience store in Richardson, Texas, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News.

The newspaper caught up with Finkler to get his take on life after meeting “Danny”--DePinto’s alias on the TV show.

Here is an excerpt from that report:

Running on energy drinks and water, Finkler has been at work since 4 a.m. It’s now after 7, and he raps his knuckles on the counter during a rare lull. He plays air guitar to the Creedence Clearwater Revival song coming from overhead speakers.

At 50, he is thin and balding. He wears a Bluetooth headset in one ear. Each time the front door opens, Finkler perks up. He throws his hands into the air and shouts, “Good morning! How are you, my friend?”

Finkler sets an example for his employees to follow. He engages his customers in a way that’s atypical for convenience stores--he once wore a sombrero and green sunglasses for a burrito sale.

He doesn’t allow himself to get tired, or, if he does, to show it. He remembers an expression from the Soviet army: “There are no sick soldiers--only dead or alive.” Finkler says he “simply cannot have a bad day.”

He puts in 60 to 80 hours a week. The store sees about 800 customers each weekday, and last month’s sales were up 8% from the previous year. But that’s still 30% below the market average. Finkler says that’s normal for the first few years of business, but not good enough. “Less than excellence is not accepted,” he says.

“He won’t quit until the job is done. He kind of expects others to act in the same way,” says his son, Sergei Finkler, who works at the store. “I often have to remind him, you know, this is not the army.”

Even when Finkler goes home for the night, he wonders how the store’s doing. “He’ll tell me, ‘I woke up and I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking about the business,’” Sergei, 23, says. “If it was his choice, he’d put a sleeping bag here in the office and just stay here.”

For all the hours Finkler puts in, he hasn’t given himself a raise since becoming a franchisee. He says he makes about $600 a week after taxes--slightly more than he made as a truck driver, but much less if you figure it by the hour. He gives any extra money the store makes to his employees, whom he considers family.

Finkler doesn’t mind hard work. But in time, he hopes he’ll be able to work a little less and sleep a little more. Then he might have more time for hobbies like having movie nights with his wife, reading Mark Twain novels and skydiving with his family.

Until then, Finkler sits in the back room, surrounded by Airheads, packaged cookies and Matador beef jerky. He bobs his head as he sings the refrain from the Beatles’ “Across the Universe”--and almost gets it right.

“Nothing’s gonna change my mind …”

Click here to read the full story on Finkler’s move from truck driver to 7-Eleven franchisee.