A Fresh Look at Convenience

After four decades, Brian Bovencamp continues to serve local communities at 7-Eleven with a modern approach that replaces packaged goods with fresh food

In January 1976, Brian Bovencamp needed a job to help make ends meet as he started university. He filled out a simple application and began working the night shift in an Edmonton-area 7-Eleven as a sales associate. In January 2016, he celebrated his fortieth anniversary with the international convenience store chain.

A decade after he started working what he assumed would be a short-term job, Bovencamp found himself peering out the window of a Bangkok hotel. He counted nine 7-Eleven stores from that window. “We were growing across Canada at the time, and in that moment I realized the extent of 7-Eleven’s global footprint,” Bovencamp recalls. “It helped me appreciate the impact, strength, and global effectiveness of our business model.”

While Bovencamp never set out to turn his job at 7-Eleven into a career, he increasingly found himself surprised by opportunities and fulfilling positions at every turn: Seven months after his first shift, for example, he was promoted to a store operator. He later managed four 7-Eleven stores in Edmonton before moving to other, more challenging opportunities and locations.

Since then, he’s worked directly or in collaboration with many departments within 7-Eleven Canada—including time in facilities with store renovation, asset protection, training, and food production. Bovencamp’s longest stint was a ten-year stay leading the organization’s merchandising group as its senior director of merchandising, which he calls one of his four careers at 7-Eleven. “I’ve stayed here because I’ve never been bored, and I’m constantly given the chance to grow and challenge myself professionally and personally,” he says.

That growth even extended to nationwide experience, as he has held positions from Alberta to Saskatchewan. And while developing new skills and contributing more to 7-Eleven has been important for Bovencamp, he has never been overly concerned with climbing the corporate ladder. “I’m more concerned with skill development and doing the rewarding and challenging work that I enjoy,” he says. “I rose through the ranks because I was dedicated, and I believed in our vision.” Another move took Bovencamp to British Columbia in 1995.

Then, in 2015, he leveraged his deep knowledge of operations and combined experience in merchandising, retail, forecasting, team building, leadership, and strategic planning to become 7-Eleven Canada’s senior director of operations.

In that role, Bovencamp oversees a growing portfolio of 506 stores and more than seven thousand employees spread across six operating markets.

In early 2016, 7-Eleven Canada acquired 148 Esso locations in western Canada. Bovencamp will lead the Canadian integration team that will incorporate those stores into the 7-Eleven family.

Though the job is a big one, he focuses on one specific goal. “We want to take 7-Eleven and move it from a transactional company to a network of locally specific stores,” he says. To do so, he’s working with merchandising, store leaders, and other key personnel to tailor product assortments that are specific to the needs of customers living and transiting within a one-kilometre radius.

Although Bovencamp has seen many changes over his four decades with 7-Eleven, some things remain the same. “The surface of our business may look different after forty years,” Bovencamp notes, “but the core of convenience retail has not changed.” The company remains a retailer that completes thousands of fast-paced transactions each day. Its customers still need convenient access to a wide selection of products. “Our role then, as now, is to meet those needs—being a store that’s convenient, and a store that changes and evolves as our customers’ day-to-day needs grow and evolve,” he says.

As part of that evolution, Bovencamp and his team can now use reams of data to understand exactly what those customers need better than ever before. They can research what sold to whom and in which quantities, down to the exact minute. They can monitor aging food products and order fresh replacements in advance. Bovencamp and his team can gather insight that will help the company better serve the customer in each specific store. “If we notice caffeinated coffee spikes at eight at night because of a shift change in a local warehouse, we can accommodate those needs,” says Bovencamp. “We have the most sophisticated sales data of almost any retailer in the world.” Each 7-Eleven’s ability to know its customer is critical, and each store operator can access that data at any time.

Although big data is available, personal connections remain important. “Data is half of the picture. The other half comes from talking to the customer to better understand their needs,” Bovencamp says, adding that he spends 20–30 percent of each week talking to store leaders and customers across the country. He’s away from home at least two days per week in an attempt to reach more than five hundred stores from Vancouver Island to Ontario. But Bovencamp’s not alone with this need to better understand 7-Eleven’s customers’ needs—the company’s Canadian leadership team requires all non-customer-facing employees to spend two days each year in a store. Those employees will then gather in their corporate setting to brainstorm ideas that will improve customer experience while simplifying the role for sales associates.

In addition to contextualizing each store, 7-Eleven is evolving from a traditional retailer of packaged goods to a hybrid retail/fresh-food store. Bovencamp is working to change internal culture and ensure 7-Eleven has the right infrastructure in place to support this transformation. He’s tweaked reporting structures and called for fresh food supervisors who have a clear line of responsibility for food freshness, quality, and safety.

Not only will this move help widen the gap between 7-Eleven and traditional retailers, but the corporation will now be competing against new competitors—like fast food and coffee icons. Bovencamp and his peers are exploring other options, including home delivery and on-site baking.

The company has a clear vision for growth across Canada and around the world; it’s that vision that’s kept Bovencamp with the company. While he’s thankful for the chance to explore many business areas over his first four decades with 7-Eleven, he’s most excited about what lies ahead.