MILWAUKEE -- Midwest Retail Group LLC, 7-Eleven's largest U.S. franchise group, has sold its 14 convenience stores in southeastern Wisconsin to a new franchisee, CSP Daily News has learned.
The new franchise owner is Greg Evans, who previously owned the Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard c-store chain. In early 2010, 7-Eleven purchased 16 c-stores from Rock Island, Ill.-based MHC Convenience LLC, parent company of the chain of 20 Mother Hubbard's Cupboard locations in Illinois and Iowa.
Now, James Fiene, president and CEO of Midwest Retail Group (MRG), said it was the right time for him and partner Paul Reuter to sell their 14 stores. “We grew the company to the largest franchise group, and we're very proud of that," Fiene said. "We were the first ones to get to that level. We just found it to be the opportune time [to sell], and the best move for us was to transition them all at one time. It worked out very smoothly. 7-Eleven was a great partner in the process.”
He said that there are a lot of challenges in the marketplace for a company when it gets to be a certain size, including with the Affordable Care Act. “We had a lot of decisions to make—either grow or go,” said Fiene.
Previously, Fiene was COO of Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin Inc., Pleasant Prairie, Wis., and vice president of retail sales for Thorntons Inc., Louisville, Ky.
The locations sold were once Open Pantry c-stores that 7-Eleven took over in 2012 in a deal that Fiene helped facilitate. Midwest Retail franchised its first six stores in 2013. “We were the first franchise group to start with six locations right up front,” Fiene said. “That was a pretty significant change from 7-Eleven's typical operational mode. They gave us the privilege to do that. After operating the first six for about a year and a half, the idea came to try to take it to the next level, so we acquired the other eight locations in 2015.”
When 7-Eleven bought the stores, the people in Wisconsin didn't know what a 7-Eleven was beyond TV and other pop-culture references, Fiene said. There hadn't been 7-Elevens in the Badger State since the 1980s. “It was a brand that we really got an opportunity to introduce over the last four years and maintain a very strong presence and a very strong image,” he said.
Fiene and Reuter, Midwest Retail’s chairman and partner, knew each other for more than 20 years in the c-store industry. Fiene was a retailer for more than 30 years, and Reuter was the founder and owner of CSP Information Group, a publishing company that he started in the 1980s, and which is now Winsight LLC. When the opportunity came up to franchise the former Open Pantry stores, they went into business together.
“I have had the unique experience to interview and meet so many of retailing’s greats and so many more over the life of my career,” said Reuter. “My partnership in MRG only added to my valuable learning. Although exiting MRG, I continue to be an active partner along with David Nelson and Kay Segal in the Business Accelerator Team LLC, as senior adviser with NRC Realty assisting with industry M&A activity and as owner of Kreative Collaborations LLC. My motto is clear: The R word is not retirement; it’s refresh. You rest, you rust.”
With no plans to retire, Fiene said, “I'm trying to figure out what my next steps might be. I love the industry and plan on being in the industry the rest of my life. I've gotten so much out of the franchise side of the business and the large brand side of the business. From a business ownership standpoint, working with the largest convenience-store chain in the world has been a real eye-opening and exciting experience. I'm hoping to take some of that experience to the marketplace and see what I can do to help other people. I'm certainly looking at all options—from retailers to suppliers.”
Midwest Retail Group, based in Milwaukee, is a privately owned operations and marketing organization with expertise in convenience-store and gas-station management.
Irving, Texas-based 7 Eleven operates, franchises or licenses more than 65,000 c-stores in 18 countries, including approximately 9,700 locations in the United States and Canada. It ranked No. 1 in CSP's 2017 Top 202 list of the largest c-store chains in the United States.