In this day and age, you can easily find convenience stores spread out in different countries all over the world. For each country and each brand of convenience stores, you will notice unique and specific items sold, in addition to the general items you can usually find in these types of stores. It is a known fact that Japan has a knack for improving all sorts of things like art, fashion, and food. Among the many things that Japan has improved, there might be no better example than how Japan elevated the convenience store business on a global scale with the changes they have made locally throughout the decades.
The History of Japanese Convenience Stores and How It Progressed To Its Modern Version
Despite the progress brought about by Japanese convenience stores, this business model did not originate from Japan. It came from the United States whose first convenience stores were established more than 70 years ago. In the case of Japan, their first convenience store or “conbini” appeared in the year of 1969. Sadly, the first attempts for Japanese convenience stores did not take off with the public so not a lot was established immediately.
In the year of 1974, that all changed because of Ito-Yokado Co., Ltd. It was one of the major Japanese retailers at that time and they worked together with a US corporation called Southland Corporation of the United States to establish the very first 7/11 store in Japan. This was a vital move to make because working with Southland Corporation enabled the Japanese to learn management practices from the United States. The Japanese tweaked some practices to adjust to the Japanese market and all these changes in the system made the very first 7/11, which opened in Toyosu, Koto Ward, Tokyo, a huge success.
The business’ success was apparent because of how these convenience stores started appearing in every corner of every block in Japan. By the year of 1980, the recorded number of 7/11 stores alone in Japan was at 10,000. By the year of 1992, this number increased to 20,000. In the present time, there are more than 38,000 stores scattered all throughout Japan and it continues to show growth despite these whopping increases in a matter of decades.
There were many adjustments made by the Japanese stores in comparison to the stores of the U.S. but there are two things that made all the difference which was their unique distribution system and their innovative products. Aside from being in almost every corner of every block in certain areas in Japan and constantly delivering refrigerated meals several times in a day to ensure the freshness of the products, these 7/11 branches were the ones to introduce the use of a POS system to Japan in the year of 1982 which basically gave more hands-on control over things like deliveries, product ordering, and inventory. Regarding their innovative products, they took two traditional foods of the Japanese culture and made their own recipe to mass produce. These dishes were the onigiri and oden. These strategies of innovating products and distributing these products with great efficiency were invented by Japanese convenience stores and because of its success, it has become the defining quality sought out by foreign convenience store chains that wish to be as successful.
The growth in popularity of these Japanese convenience stores wasn't always smooth sailing. It reached its peak in growth during the latter part of the 1980’s because it was at this time that multiple chains were engaged in intense competition against one another. This competition is what fueled the massive expansions done by the major convenience store chains like 7/11, Lawson, and Family Mart. After this peak in the late 80’s, Japan experienced a national recession that made several businesses go through hard times.
Surprisingly, the convenience store business was not greatly affected by this recession because new stores kept opening up. This was happening because of these stores, with their amazing distribution system, were able to constantly satisfy the demands of their products and services. Some convenience store chains were even able to expand overseas because of the efficiency and success of their business. Examples of such events were when 7/11 started to get into the Hawaiian market and when Family Mart started getting into the Taiwanese market. These moves were also a success because nowadays, there are over 1000 Family Marts scattered all over Taiwan and 7/11 onigiri is becoming a popular light meal in countries like Korea.
All the Names of the Japanese Convenience Stores Including the Biggest Brands Found In Japan
There were 7 convenience store chains that can be found in Japan but due to certain business moves, there are only 6 existing convenience store brands in Japan. These 7 stores were namely Circle K Sunkus, Daily Yamazaki, Poplar, Ministop, Lawson, Family Mart, and 7/11. The Circle K Sunkus is an example of brands that have become something else. It first entered the Japanese market in the year of 2004 but it does not exist now because UNY Co., Ltd., the company that owns Circle K Sunkus, merged with Family Mart Co. in the year of 2016. This merger rebranded most Circle K stores into Family Mart stores.
For the brand called Poplar, it wasn’t always a complete convenience store because it originally opened as a liquor shop in Hiroshima in the year of 1983. It opened another shop in Naka-ku, Hiroshima in the year of 1976 and in 1996, it established itself as Poplar Foods. Nowadays, there is a total of 818 shops of Poplar convenience stores placed all over areas like Chugoku, Kanto, Kansai, Kyushu, and Shikoku. As for the brand of Daily Yamazaki, this particular convenience store chain established itself in Japan in the year of 1977. It is quite an interesting chain because it is owned by Japan’s biggest baking company. With this being the case, you can expect to see delicious baked goods like bread and pastries in its branches in addition to the general items sold in convenience stores as well.
The convenience store chain of Ministop is considered to be one of the more elite chains that can be found in Japan. This is because they offer services that are also quite unique compared to the other elite chains like 7/11 and Lawson. This unique service is due to the presence of a kitchen where they prepare the sandwiches and snacks on demand. It is also in Ministop that they started to provide seating areas for customers to eat in when they buy food and snacks from the store. In addition to having a kitchen to serve fresh food, Ministop has also made a menu that includes the typical food selection such as hot dogs and sandwiches as well as seasonal food and snacks and certain promotions during different times in a year.
The last 3 chains that have yet to be discussed are considered to be the best of the best convenience stores in Japan. It isn’t hard to understand why 7/11, Lawson, and Family Mart have reached this level of acknowledgment from the public considered the services and goods they offer. The services they provide alone should make it clear why their convenience store brands are the ones that offer the most convenience to customers. Aside from having the goods they sell, these specific brands of convenience stores have introduced ATMs into their stores to make it easier for people to withdraw in case they lack cash during whatever time of the day.
These brands also have fax machines and copy machines for instances where you would need to copy documents in a rush. Ticket reservations for certain things like sports events, concerts, and travel services as well as bills can also be settled in these convenience stores. If that isn’t enough to show their superiority, these brands also offer digital camera prints for customers who need pictures taken and developed as soon as possible. All branches of these brands in Japan now also offer free Wi-Fi connection and charging stations for all kinds of cell phones. To top things off, these brands also offer delivery services for luggage, which can sometimes be seen as an excessive service to offer but if you do find yourself needing such a service then you would definitely appreciate these stores offering it.
The Japanese Convenience Store Food and Snacks like Their Bento and Much More
A list of the things available in a convenience store can go on and on but something that should always be there is their choices for food and snacks. Nowadays, there is always a moment in a person’s life when he or she is in too much of a rush to buy a meal from a restaurant or cook the meal themselves. With this being said, the ready-to-eat food that these stores sell because one of their most important products to sell to customers. Certain food and snacks like the rice ball called onigiri and the simmered food called the oden have been discussed earlier but there are so many options you can avail of in these stores.
There are heavy meals that they call “bento” sold in these stores and these meals sometimes come in the form of rice bowls. They also come in different flavors so that customers can have more choices on what kind of food they and eat on the go. If you aren’t into rice bowls, you can opt to try the instant noodles found in these stores. Much like the rice meals, these instant noodles also come in a variety of flavors for the customers to choose from. If they aren’t looking for a real meal, these stores also offer snacks like buns and sweets to help customers satisfy such cravings.
Considering all that you can buy and do in these convenience stores, it can easily be a substitute for establishments like groceries and supermarkets because these convenience stores offer the majority of the items and ingredients found in these supermarkets and more. You should also know that these items usually have labels translated in English to aid foreigners who buy stuff from these stores so if you can’t read Japanese, don’t worry about it. These convenience stores have evolved in multiple ways and they have truly become a place where convenience is found. If you are in any city in Japan and in need for something usual or unusual, you should definitely give these stores a look because more often than not, you will find what you are looking for.