a conversation with jim keyes

Jim Keyes, who recently stepped down as president and CEO of 7-Eleven Inc., is as passionate about growing people as he is about growing merchandise sales. While leading a franchise-based company for two decades comes with its share of challenges, it also comes with many rewards, especially relating to people development.

A tireless advocate of continuing education as a conduit for selfimprovement, Keyes has been fundamental in developing Education is Freedom, 7-Eleven Inc.'s initiative to help young people with academic promise find a path to higher learning. But he also strives to make sure 7- Eleven is providing its retailers with opportunities to spread their wings.

"The most rewarding aspect of being a franchise-based company is helping so many business people realize the American dream," he says. "Many of our franchisees are first-generation Americans with strong educational backgrounds and experience in retailing. Building a business of their own in a new country is a life-long dream, and 7-Eleven has paved the way for many to become successful business people mirroring our diverse customer base."

CSD caught up with Keyes just before he retired from 7-Eleven to discuss 7-Eleven's growth, future opportunities and the one factor that ties it all together: the customer.

What are you most proud of with 7-Eleven and its growth?

Over the past eight years we have made believers of our people, franchisees, strategic business partners and investment community of the benefits of our Retailer Initiative strategy. The execution of this strategy has resulted in continual store performance improvement as evidenced by our 36 consecutive months of same-store sales increases. During the same time, we are re-shaping customers perception of convenience and 7-Eleven. We are becoming known as a destination for portable, high-quality fresh food and innovative products and services beyond the traditional c-store product mix.

Thirty-six consecutive quarters of growth in same-store merchandise sales is an impressive feat. What factors have helped the company achieve this goal?

Through the use of technology, franchisees and store managers have the ability to continuously customize their product mix. Keeping our product assortment fresh, exciting and relevant to short term weather patterns or longer term economic shifts has enabled us to satisfy our customers and generate continual improvement to store performance.

7-Eleven seems to be making inroads into more urban areas, with smaller stores primarily for meeting the needs of white-collar professionals and other urbanites. Will we continue to see more smaller, metropolitan or urban stores in the future?

7-Eleven will continue to invest in high-density areas, which enable us to meet the needs of a broader demographic group for us, including women and white-collar working professionals. Our stores in downtown Chicago and Manhattan have enjoyed success by providing customers with convenient, affordable and portable fresh food options.

7-Eleven is fortunate to benefit from its affiliation with other 7- Eleven divisions throughout the world. How has their insight help improve 7-Eleven Inc?

Our global network allows us to immediately identify product trends that can be adapted and introduced in new markets in new and innovative ways. For example, Rice Balls are wildly popular in Japan. It combines a carbohydrate

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