What C-Stores Can Learn From 50 Years of Japanese Konbini Innovation
March 23, 2023
Walking through the streets of Japan and stumbling across countless 7-Elevens and what appear to be western-themed c-stores called “Lawson,” one gets the impression that the US has had a marked impact on the convenience culture of Japan. But in reality, it’s actually the other way around. In the early 70s, a Japanese department store chain called Ito-Yokado bought the franchise rights for 7-Eleven and Denny’s. After a few iterations, the stores started seeing success with grab-and-go foods like onigiri (Japanese rice balls), yakitori, and katsu (fried) chicken as well as other banking and postal services. Fast forward to the early 90s, Ito-Yokado bought a majority stake in the entire 7-Eleven franchise, making it a Japanese company. Lawson, too, originated in the US as a humble chain of Ohio neighborhood convenience stores selling its own dairy products and was eventually franchised to a Japanese supermarket chain in the 70s. Mitsubishi became its largest shareholder in 2001. Over the past two weeks, I have been observing the role of these konbini (convenience) stores, taking notes on what I think are some interesting takeaways for the US convenience industry.