Controversy over 24-hour operation
In Japan, it's normal for convenience stores to be open 24 hours.
But a franchisee of a leading chain store announced
last month that he was suspending daily 24-hour
operations due to a severe shortage of staff.
The company told him that doing so would violate
his contract and ordered him to pay a penalty.
The decision has fueled controversy on whether
convenience stores should be in operation around the clock.
"We are shortening operating hours"
Mitoshi Matsumoto opened the franchise in western Japan's
Osaka Prefecture seven years ago.
It was initially operating 24 hours. Recently,
he decided to shorten hours after his wife, who had been
helping him run the store, died last year and he found it
difficult to secure enough workers amid the tight labor market.
Matsumoto says his store has been chronically understaffed
for some two years and that he made the decision after a long
struggle for a solution. His store now opens from 6:00 AM to 1:00
AM the next morning.
Matsumoto runs the store under a franchise contract with
Seven-Eleven Japan. The company told him that the shortened
operating hours violates the contract.
He says the firm ordered him to resume 24-hour operations and pay a penalty of about US$152,000.
Seven-Eleven Japan's franchise contracts mandate daily
24-hour operations at all stores, except for those
at train stations, office buildings, and other facilities.
The firm's contract with Matsumoto also includes
a penalty for suspending around-the-clock operations.
The company says it negotiates with store owners
and others to decide what to do when there are individual
requests such as a change in operating hours.
It says proper communication had not taken place between
the company and Matsumoto.
It promised to have talks with him, saying its headquarters
will help him continue daily 24-hour operations.
Reasons for 24-hour operation
Staff shortages are worsening in Japan's convenience store industry. However, the big three -- Seven-Eleven Japan, Family Mart,
and Lawson -- are reluctant to change their
daily 24-hour business models.
One of the major reasons for this is the enlarged role of
Since they launched around-the-clock operations
about four decades ago, the stores have fulfilled
various functions ranging from late-night shopping to
government and banking services, such as the
issuance of residence certificates and ATMs.
Convenience stores are also expected to function
as government-designated public facilities which will
provide food and goods to survivors in the event of
major earthquakes and other disasters.
The stores are already part of the social infrastructure,
making it necessary for them to operate around the clock.