Genichi ("Gen") Tamatsuka, MBA '98, is the CEO of Lawson, a conbini (convenience) store chain in Japan, featured in this The World Post article, "Lawson's Geek: My Love Affair with Japan's Convenient Stores" by Nancy Snow.
Excerpted from article:
...In my former Mita neighborhood, I used to look out for a favorite Lawson part-timer who would use a tea ceremony respectability to making my coffee--adding cream, putting it in a take-out tray and delivering it to me with both hands and a slight bow. It was a little bit of Christmas everyday.
In contrast, I come from a country where going to a convenience store is often a mindless ritual of putting gas in the car and grabbing a soda and snack for the road trip. When dashing in and out of an American conbini, customer service is the last thing on my mind, even if I encounter a particularly helpful employee. I want to grab and run.
Geninchi responds, "I receive friends from overseas and often I get asked, "How can you afford to provide bento, a lunchbox with such high quality at such low price?" An average lunch in the UK would be 8 to 10 British pounds or so; likewise, 8 to 10 dollars for a lunchbox in the U.S."
He explains that the competition for customers leads to an intense pressure to deliver such high quality at an affordable price.
There are 55,000 conbini in Japan. Going forward there will be the Big Three: 7-Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson, to account for 90% of the entire store network.
The franchise owner is a very important stakeholder. If the headquarters were to provide a lunchbox that wasn't tasty, complaints will pile up or the customer will turn to a competitor convenience store. The competition is so high that the customer is to be treated as king or queen on the receiving end of two outstretched hands holding my fried chicken with a spice bag taped to the top.
Lawson is part of nation brand Japan. Foreigners who visit Japan for the first time often comment about the convenience of the Japanese lifestyle, and what they mean are the ubiquitous conbini and vending machines.
"There is a very fierce and intense competition among 7-Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson," Tamatsuka notes. "You may not know this, but every Tuesday is the launch date for new products at convenience stores. So by Wednesday you would have a feel as to whether it's selling or not. If 7-Eleven were to launch a good new product, perhaps in a week or two other chains would follow suit, perhaps with much better products. That's the nature of the competition within the industry. And the top-line sales are somewhat transparent. Each party knows how the other party is doing as well. So fierce competition leads to innovation and a fierce competition is very good for the customers."...
Read the full article.