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    7-Eleven Named Top Franchise Opportunity by Entrepreneur Magazine

    2008 marks the first time the retailer gained the prestigious ranking.

    DALLAS -- 7-Eleven Inc. was recognized as the No. 1 franchise opportunity on Entrepreneur Magazine's 2008 Annual Franchise 500, acknowledging the retailer's accelerated franchise activity, expansion and business system, the company stated.

    This ranking marks the first time the convenience chain has captured the spot, outing quick-serve sandwich maker Subway, which has held the throne for seven years. Last year, the company placed fourth on the list, and has placed in the Top 10 for the past 16 years as well as first in its category since 2004, according to Entrepreneur.

    "It's just renowned to be recognized by Entrepreneur, which is really the foremost ranking for franchises in the country," company President and CEO Joe DePinto told CSNews Online yesterday. "It's not only great for the brand 7-Eleven, but it's great for franchisees who work so hard for a long period of time to be recognized this way."

    After learning of their achievement, 7-Eleven sent out notes internally and DePinto said the response is "really clear that people are excited and proud of it."

    On a personal note, DePinto told CSNews Online the ranking validates the work his team has done so far.

    "We worked really hard over the last two years to change the culture of 7-Eleven," said DePinto. "Not only to change the culture as a total franchise organization, but to live by servant leadership in our organization. It says 'to lead we must serve.' The goal is to enable franchisees to be successful. This recognition is a validation that what we're doing is working"

    Factors considered in the ranking include financial strength and stability, growth rate, size of the system and initial investment. Across the globe, 7-Eleven boasts approximately 33,300 stores, 7,300 of which are located in North America. A new 7-Eleven location opens somewhere in the world about every four and a half hours. Total revenue for all its stores was $44 billion in 2006, according to the company.

    When asked what may have warranted his company's installation at the top of the list, DePinto cited 7-Eleven's 2-year-old strategy to convert its company-owned stores to franchises. The company is actively converting its company-operated stores in Virginia, Texas, Colorado, Utah and Florida.

    At the time of that announcement, 7-Eleven stores were approximately 60 percent franchises and 40 percent company-owned. "We're now at 72 percent franchised. We opened up the opportunity to entrepreneurs across the country. That was important [for the rankings]," DePinto told CSNews Online.

    Another factor that helped the company's place on the list was the launch of its Business Conversion Program, where existing petroleum retailers and convenience store operators can rebrand stores to 7-Eleven and gain the benefits of its large network, including infrastructure, a store remodel, IT, distribution and purchasing scale. "That growth was something really important to the ranking," said DePinto. "The Business Conversion Program is our key growth vehicle."

    Interest in the program has been high, according to DePinto. "As retailers learn more about it, they get more interested. We haven't done a ton of marketing. We were at the NACS Show with a booth, and we spoke about it at NACS." He added, "Our goal was to really get out there and fully understand this, so when we rolled this out and offered it, we had a fully turnkey program. Now that we have it, interest has been really good."

    The company is also continuing its key programs to keep its seat at the top of the list.

    "We're focusing on product assortment and innovation," DePinto explained. "Many trends are out there happening with consumers, and one of them is health, wellness and safety. We're developing a lot of key products that can deliver that."

    Another tactic DePinto has lead during the past two years is the Presidents Leadership Council, which joins the presidents of the franchise owners associations together to meet with the company's senior team on a quarterly basis.

    "We talk about business, customer trends and ways to improve the business," said DePinto. "We are really partnering to build a stronger 7-Eleven. They are the ones who operate the stores every day. We want to know what's going on."

    7-Eleven also boasts a proprietary Information Technology (IT) system, which helps its franchisees determine specific product assortment and allows for a pipeline of new products available each week, according to the Entrepreneur report.

    Other advantages of a 7-Eleven franchise include being part of a large network with buying power, and the partnerships that can come from it. Earlier this year, 7-Eleven stores tested Anheuser-Busch's Clamato and beer beverage called Chelada, DePinto told Entrepreneur, adding that the product has been "selling really well." The chain also partnered with Citibank for ATMs.

    "Partnering with other organizations allows us to develop programs and products to create innovative items we can bring to customers that they can't get anywhere else," DePinto told Entrepreneur.

    However, the company allows franchises to follow local trends.

    "We're a very nimble retailer," DePinto said. "Although we're a global company, we act and operate our stores as if they're local. So [franchisees] can take advantage of local trends and local products that customers want."

    While 7-Eleven began 80 years ago when an ice dock operator decided to add milk, eggs and bread into his offerings, the company only entered into franchising in 1964, with the acquisition of Speedee Mart, a chain of franchises in California, according to the company.

    "Our big reason for that is our franchisees have a vested interest in being successful," DePinto told Entrepreneur. "They know their customers, and it's about delivering great customer satisfaction and the products our customers want. Our franchisees do that extremely well."

    Entrepreneur is not the only publication to recognize 7-Eleven for its efforts. The company placed second in Franchise Times Magazine's top franchises in 2007 and on Hispanic Magazine's Hispanic Corporate Top 100 Companies list for 14 years. In addition, 7-Eleven was included on the Top 25 Franchises for Hispanics list by Hispanic Trends Magazine.

    In other 7-Eleven news, the company's U.S. stores will offer a line of snack cakes and muffins from Weight Watchers Intl. Inc., as part of the manufacturer's strategy to increase the size of its licensed food business, Reuters reported.

    Weight Watcher-branded foods are expected to generate $500 million in retail sales this year, a 150 percent increase from fiscal 2005, Stacy Gordon, Weight Watcher's vice president of licensing and products, told Reuters.

    The foods in 7-Eleven stores will be made as part of a partnership with Dawn Foods, and expected to hit retail shelves in January or February, the report stated. The distribution deal at a national convenience store is the first of its kind for Weight Watchers. Gordon added that she hoped a broader range of foods could follow this agreement.

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