Photo/IllutrationA FamilyMart convenience store sign (Seisaku Yamamoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

FamilyMart Co. will allow its outlet owners to decide their store hours due to severe staff shortages, moving away from the 24/7 business model for its convenience stores.

"We have to take action as soon as possible," said FamilyMart President Takashi Sawada at a Nov. 14 news conference. "Rapid change is occurring in the environment surrounding the stores."

The change in store hours reflects both a saturation of outlets amid a declining population and increasing difficulty in finding workers, especially for the graveyard shift.

Sawada said outlet owners would be allowed to decide if their outlet will close for a few hours late at night every day or close only on Sundays. The change in policy will be implemented from March.

"Outlet owners can choose whatever option they want without obtaining approval from company headquarters," Sawada said.

That's a major difference from Seven-Eleven Japan Co., which has insisted that outlet owners first obtain approval from headquarters before changing store hours. The policy reflects Seven-Eleven's strong desire to maintain a 24/7 business model for convenience stores.

FamilyMart has about 16,000 outlets in Japan, second behind Seven-Eleven.

A FamilyMart poll found that about 7,000 outlet owners were considering shortening store hours.

The policy change would affect other aspects of FamilyMart's operations, such as the delivery of products when stores are closed. Food manufacturers and other companies that provide products to the outlets would also have to review their operations.

The number of convenience stores in Japan has continued to increase even as the population has been falling.

There are now about 55,000 outlets in Japan, more than double the number of post offices.

Convenience stores are also struggling with stiffer competition from the growing number of small supermarkets and drugstores opening, as well as the spread of Internet retailing.

The stores have also faced harsh competition finding workers.

The average hourly wage of convenience store workers in October in the three major metropolitan areas was about 10 percent higher than three years ago, according to a study by Recruit Jobs Co.

Higher costs for personnel have to be covered by individual outlet owners.

While some FamilyMart outlet owners welcomed the opportunity to alter their store hours, one owner in Kyushu said, "I also feel it's somewhat too late because the situation at each store is so severe that we're finding it extremely difficult to turn a profit."

The third largest chain, Lawson Inc., has already been letting owners shorten store hours. Between May and November, the number of outlets that ended 24-hour service rose from 42 to 118.

(This article was written by Shimpei Doi and Kazutaka Kamizawa.)