Behind Convenience Stores As Teachers
Imagine eating at the same kitchen 10 or more times a week for 15 years and every day there are new dishes, new drinks, and new snacks. That is a Japanese Convenience Store. For the average salaryman in his 30s, the convenience stores better known as "combini" are likely the most common places he buys breakfast, lunch and dinner. And it's probably the most influential medium in teaching him product selection, store brands, and the whole concept of "new."
By Dave McCaughan
Japan Convenience Stores, Inc.
Of course this is not just about the education of middle aged office workers. For people of all ages the combini is the most common retail venue they visit.
There are some 45,000 stores across the country, a third of which are the 7-Eleven outlets and most of the rest falling under the other three big chains – Lawson, FamilyMart and Circle K Sunkus. I read a report a few years ago that said that 85% of the Japanese population lives within a five-minute walk of a combini. And in recent years the retailers have been adding stores despite all the talk of static/declining populations. Of course visitors from Western countries are often surprised to hear about the significance of convenience stores (CVS). In the USA or other Western countries these chains are thought of as places you buy newspapers, cigarettes and milk. Places of last resort or attachments to gas stations. Certainly not a place you would go to buy from a selection of 50-60 fresh meal options as is the case at most combini in Japan.
In fact, when I have to entertain visiting business guests from other countries, I usually suggest that the very first thing we do is walk from their hotel to the nearest 7-Eleven or FamilyMart, never more than a few minutes from the front door of even the most prestigious hotel, and spend an hour looking around the store and the goods on offer. There I explain the huge array of products. I point out that where a typical CVS in the West may have 50-60 different drinks available, in Japan they will have around 300. And that on average there is a new drink on the shelf every one or two days. That a typical 35 year old male visits a combini 12 times a week, buys up to 10 meals a week there, probably buys 12 or more drinks as well as many other items. There is a wide range of snacks, magazines and cigarettes. But there is also a selection of maybe 60 meals, Japanese and Western, hot and cold available that are re-stocked up to seven times a day to ensure freshness. I point out that the store will have an ATM, in the case of 7-Eleven it is an ATM for their own bank. There will be basic office services available like a copy machine, courier delivery, utility bill payment and a range of other services. That there is a wide range of basic groceries and an increasingly large range of house brand...