Entrepreneur's journey takes him from night clerk to store owner
Almost three decades ago, John Nguyen walked into 7-Eleven thinking he’d get a hot dog. He walked out with a job.
Nguyen never thought he’d work there. But he was a senior in college, trying to finish school, when he saw a “help wanted” sign.
Soon a 7-Eleven supervisor asked Nguyen about his life and career goals. Then his manager said he would train Nguyen to run the store during weekends. They were two people who believed in Nguyen’s career early on.
That belief changed Nguyen's life and career trajectory. Today he owns three stores — two in North Port and one in Sarasota — and he’s working on a fourth. “My goal is to go to five stores,” he says. That would mean one for each family member — himself, his wife and his three children.
"I worked really hard and created my life. I believe, in this country, if you work hard and put your mind to it, you’ll be successful." — John Nguyen, 7-Eleven franchisee
“Right now, I live the American dream,” Nguyen says. “I worked really hard and created my life. I believe, in this country, if you work hard and put your mind to it, you’ll be successful.”
Nguyen’s move up the 7-Eleven ladder is marked by a key business axiom: adherence to systems and processes the company has in place for franchisees. It’s also marked by personalization of his stores and prioritizing the needs of the neighborhoods he serves.
Another key? Being sure to do every job he could, so he could personally see how to get things done. From 1989 to 2009, for example, Nguyen learned a lot about what makes stores tick by working in several different jobs within the company, among them clerk, trainer, manager and specialist. “I was convinced that if I used the 7-Eleven system, I would be successful,” he says. “I had seen how the company works.”
He franchised his first store in 2009, and a year later bought another one. Last year, he bought a third store, picking locations based on business and traffic.
Nguyen divides his time between his stores, helping with everything from selling products to interacting with customers. “Before I ask them to do something,” he says of his employees, “I do it, too.” That includes cleaning up trash in the parking lot. “I’m not afraid to do it.”
His stores also sell gas. He doesn’t make much on it, but it brings in customers. “They see the food is fresh and the store is clean,” he says. Then they buy the real moneymaker — food.
With 7-Eleven’s technology, Nguyen can look electronically at products and eliminate ones that aren’t selling and order more bestsellers. “They authorize 85% of the products, but you have 15% of products you can carry outside that,” he says. “You have a right to modify your sales and what your customer wants.” (While Nguyen has had a good experience with the corporate office, other 7-Eleven franchisees are bristling at some corporate policies. See related story.)
At his Sarasota store, some customers are older and retired. That means stocking more wine and coffee. Nguyen also makes a point of getting involved with the community. He finds out when groups are meeting and brings something, like coffee. He goes to sporting events and hands out coupons. “Do little things to make sure you thank neighbors,” he says. “There are a lot of convenience stores around — they can go anywhere. Let them know with little things that you appreciate their business.”
Nguyen has many repeat customers. “I try to remember their names and call them by their names,” he says. “It’s easy to lose a customer, but so hard to get one. You do everything you can to treat them right.”