Foodservice

Life in the Fast Lane

New 7-Eleven franchisee chairman will focus on communication, foodservice

QUINCY, Mass. -- Dennis Lane, a 34-year franchisee with one 7-Eleven store in Quincy, Mass., is the new chairman of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees, succeeding Tariq Khan, who has held the position for the last 10 years.

Lane, who has been a 7-Eleven franchisee for all of his adult life, said he was one of the founders of the New England 7-Eleven Franchise Owners Association is now president of the New England 7-Eleven Franchise Owners Association. For the past three years, he has also been the vice chairman of merchandising [image-nocss] on the board of directors of the national coalition. In November, he was elected to lead the national group for a two-year term, effective January 1.

His three main objectives as chairman are "to protect the rights of the independent 7-Eleven franchisees. to open a mutually beneficial line of communication between the franchise community and the franchisor.... [and] to work with the vendor community to grow the business," Lane told CSP Daily News. But as a retailer, he has his eye fixed on foodservice.

"Some of my biggest challenges will be to identify the rapidly changing marketplace," he said. "The c-store channel has changed dramatically in the past few years. We're not so much about cigarettes and tobacco anymore; that category is declining. It's not that cigarettes are not still an extremely important part of our businesses. For over 30 years, cigarettes have been over 30% of my market share, and they continue to be. But cigarettes are under incredible pressure from state and local laws. There's price pressure, and a lot of new taxes."

He added, "The American consumer is becoming much more health conscious, and cigarettes are an eroding category. We need to face the reality that the cigarette category is going to decline more rapidly than any of us realize."

To offset current and future declines in tobacco, retailers must identify new opportunities in all categories, he said. "Another area that offers huge potential for the 7-Eleven franchise community is fast foods and fresh foods. We need to get serious about the fresh foods, fast foods, fresh bakery and coffee business because there is a huge opportunity for us to grow that somewhat neglected side of the business. I believe in the c-store channel, especially in the 7-Eleven universe, those stores that are serious about growing their gross sales and gross profit are going to need to get serious about foodservice. In the convenience store channel, we've realized and recognized that the future of our industry is in fresh food growth."

Lane is implementing such a strategy in his store. "We are just beginning to become aggressive with grill, we're revisiting the coffee island, we're very aggressive with our daily delivered fresh sandwiches and we're beginning in 2008 to step into the world of hot foods. There's a huge push in our industry to bring a viable, quality, hot fresh food program into the industry, that consumers will be confident coming in for all dayparts. That's going to take some infrastructure retrofitting, re-educating our employees and ourselves, and we're going to have to be cleaner than clean."

He admitted that in the past, consumers have been cautious about making significant food purchases in c-stores. "We need to change that perception. We need to offer them quality, hot and fresh foods at a great price in a clean environment. That will be one more reason for them to stop into a convenience store."

As for his relationship with 7-Eleven corporate, Lane told CSP Daily News that he intends to be in the "middle of the road." He said, "One of the reasons that I ran for chairman is that I believe I have a good relationship with [7-Eleven Inc.]. One of the most important things I can accomplish for the franchise community is to have an open, honest and balanced channel of communication with [7-Eleven Inc.]. If we're not communicating, we can't solve issues and work on the challenges that lay ahead of us. In a franchise world, we are tied at the hip. It is a franchisee-franchisor relationship, and we need to maximize that relationship."

He conceded that there are "huge" differences in the way a franchisee and a franchisor views the industry He said that he recently wrote an article for Avanti, the group's publication, called "The Middle of the Road," and "that's where I need to be with [7-Eleven Inc.]. Is every side always going to get what it wants or needs? Probably not, but if we're talking to each other, we can accomplish some great things," he said.

Lane was especially enthusiastic about 7-Eleven's Business Conversion Program (BCP), intended to sign up new franchisees with existing stores to rebrand to 7-Eleven. "7-Eleven has committed to becoming a 100% franchise community over the next few years, and [BCP] is going to be a quick and efficient method of growing the trade name and growing the recognition quickly. It's a lot more functional than going out and actually finding a location, building it to spec, getting it up and running, putting a franchisee in there; they're actually taking an exiting convenience store that meets the standards to be converted to a 7-Eleven and every 7-Eleven that opens grows the trade name."

And he recognizes the importance of vendors in the franchise equation. "In franchise storesother than proprietary products such as the logo coffee cups and things like thatwe have pretty much sole discretion on what we carry. We are the front line. We make all of the purchasing decisions. Whether an item is authorized by the parent company or not, we make all of the purchasing decisions, so we can be extremely beneficial in helping vendors bringing products into the c-store channel, especially the 7-Eleven channel, that they might have difficulty doing otherwise. And, of course, we can also offer tremendous support for recommended and mainstream products. As the vendor community grows, we go, and it's all about sales and gross profit. We sell stuff. We're retailers."

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