In this Q&A established franchisee Theresa Zhou reveals what it’s like to run a 7-Eleven store.
How long have you been a franchisee with 7-Eleven?
I started as a franchisee in 1998 so I’ve been with 7-Eleven now for 25 years!
Is this (Port Melbourne) the only store you have had?
No, this is my fourth store, but now my only store. I’ve had both fuel and non-fuel stores, each one has had its own character and it must meet the needs of its local community.
Why have you had so many stores?
I used to be professional table tennis player so I’m competitive and always like a challenge. I liked to build up sales each time I get a new store, so it was very enjoyable when I achieve the target. It was very hard to make the decisions to sell those stores, but it takes a lot of energy to run multiple stores. So now I just have the one store and focus on maintaining a very high standard all the time.
How many team members do you have working at your store?
Normally a store like this would have been between eight and ten people working in it over a week. Currently, I have eight team members who are excellent so I would rather employ less people who are really good and give them more hours.
How many hours do you work each week?
I work from 6.15 am to about 3 pm Monday to Friday, the early and mid-morning trade is very important for the business, so I like to be here myself. I have worked longer hours in the past but it’s very important that you take time to rest otherwise your business will suffer because you can become very tired and you will not be able to maintain your passion towards this business.
Do you own the store by yourself?
I now have my son as my partner in the business. He worked in the store while he did his medical studies but then when he finished his studies, he told me he would rather come into the business than be a doctor.
What has changed over the 25 years you have been a 7-Eleven franchisee?
Things have changed but the fundamentals have not changed. The most important things for your store to succeed are great customer service, store cleanliness and fresh products.
The range of food, drinks, and coffee we sell now compared to when I started is huge. People only thought of us for things like chocolate bars and Slurpees, or if they were desperate for a midnight snack. Now, we have people buying food all day with a real focus on the all the healthy options such as our take home ready meals. In addition, 7-Eleven has put a lot of energy developing the signature hand made fresh sandwiches. Now, we have customers who come in store everyday buying multiple sandwiches with all sorts of good feedback. 7-Eleven has never stopped improving their recipes of our main food products such as pies, muffins and sandwiches. I really appreciate their time and energy they put into continually improving the food offering.
We also always now have a zero sugar Slurpee option available along with three coffee machines that work all day and night.
You must have seen some big changes in technology and digital innovation for you and your customer?
Absolutely, it has lifted our store to the next level. For example, now, almost one in five of our customers buying fuel are using the fuel lock feature in the My &-Eleven App and just last week, a promotion on the App saw us sell over five times the quantity of product than we normally would. The App has been great in attracting new customers and building loyalty with existing customers.
How has the relationship between you as a 7-Eleven franchisee and the franchisor changed over the past 25 years?
Fortunately, it has not been changed a lot in the past few years. The senior people at Head Office have always been accessible and willing to hear feedback from franchisees on the front line. No one gets everything right, so we need to spend time communicating with each other to improve the situation. In fact, we have always been supporting each other to make this business better and better.
I speak to many other franchisees in the inner-city and CBD and I know that they are very grateful for the support they received from Head Office during the COVID lockdowns. This was a very tough time for them, but 7-Eleven were generous and supportive helping them to get through to the other side where they are now still in business.
Franchising is a two way street, both sides must make money to succeed, you must talk to each other but more importantly, you must listen to each other. I think that is a strength of 7- Eleven.