The Yomiuri ShimbunSeven-Eleven Japan Co., the nation’s largest convenience store operator, will open 14 outlets next month in Okinawa Prefecture, the sole remaining prefecture where it does not have at least one store.
Some experts say the market is already oversaturated as there are more than 55,000 outlets across the country.
Okinawa Prefecture is likely to become the center of fierce competition among major convenience store operators while they are reviewing their opening plans in other areas.
One of the 14 new Seven-Eleven outlets was preparing for its opening recently alongside a busy main road near the Kokusaidori shopping street, a major tourist spot in Naha. A sign on the window of the store read, “Part-time workers wanted!”
Competition is strong in the area. A FamilyMart Co. outlet stands only 50 meters away from the Seven-Eleven store and a Lawson Inc. one is just 100 meters away.
Seven-Eleven Japan stayed away from the prefecture for a long time mainly because of the prefecture’s small population. The chain decided to open the stores partly because the prefecture enjoyed a record number of tourists in fiscal 2018.
“Business opportunities expanded in the market,” a company public relations official said.
Having built its own deli factory, Seven-Eleven Japan will open 14 outlets in Naha, Itoman and other places on July 11.
A 50-year-old man who works near a new outlet said: “I’m looking forward to the opening. I’m excited to see what items will be on offer in the shop.”
FamilyMart was the first major convenience store operator to open an outlet in the prefecture in 1987. It has 325 stores in the prefecture as of the end of May.
The chain has increased its number of outlets through collaboration with Ryubo Holdings Co., which runs a local department store and supermarkets. Among popular items at FamilyMart outlets in Okinawa Prefecture are a local special tea called Sanpincha, and rice balls made with luncheon meat and egg.
Lawson entered Okinawa Prefecture on its own in 1997 but switched to running stores in a joint venture with local major supermarket chain operator San-A Co. in 2009. Lawson now has 232 outlets in the prefecture.
Lawson Okinawa Inc. President Masayuki Koja appeared confident despite Seven-Eleven’s entry into the market, saying, “We will do nothing but improve our service and strive to offer a shopping experience that will win the support of customers.”
Compared to other prefectures, distribution and other cost are high in Okinawa Prefecture partly because some products must be transported from the mainland. But Seven-Eleven has an ambitious goal of opening 250 outlets in the prefecture in the coming five years. It is set to run more outlets there than Lawson by aggressively opening new stores.
Meanwhile, the minimum hourly wage for workers in Okinawa Prefecture rose to ¥762 in fiscal 2018 from ¥664 in fiscal 2013. Convenience store operators are likely to face tough competition not only to gain customers but also to secure store employees.Speech