Labor shortage a stress test for Japan's 24/7 convenience stores
By Sam Nussey and Ritsuko Shimizu
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's growing labor shortage threatens the nation's ubiquitous convenience stores, whose business model relies on an army of part-timers packing bento lunch boxes, manning cash registers and delivering goods 24/7.
The big three "combini" operators 7-Eleven, FamilyMart and Lawson, which have expanded through Japan's long slump, are scrambling to ease the pressure on franchisees by offering a mix of financial aid and labor-saving automation.
But their earnings outlook is the bleakest in years.
Japan has around 55,000 convenience stores nationwide - roughly one for every 2,300 people - and each store needs around 20 part-timers to run it.
Some shop owners struggling to fill shifts find themselves working some nights as well as during the day.
"The labor situation is starting to get health-hazardous," said one store owner who asked not to be identified.
Restaurant chain Royal Host (8179.T: Quote) and McDonald's Japan (2702.T: Quote) have begun moving away from 24-hour operations, but so far convenience chains aren't reducing hours or cutting store numbers. Continued...