TOKYO -- Japanese convenience store operator FamilyMart will recruit franchisees to test shorter hours as the industry grapples with a labor crunch that has made it harder to maintain the traditional round-the-clock model, Nikkei has learned.
The company, a subsidiary of FamilyMart Uny Holdings, will as early as June try having stores close late at night on Sundays in some areas, including parts of Tokyo and Nagasaki Prefecture. It will test other reduced schedules in southern Akita Prefecture and elsewhere in Tokyo, among other locations. Several dozen of the 270 or so franchise stores in the selected regions are expected to agree to participate.
The trials are slated to last three to six months. FamilyMart will try out three possible schedules, including 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Depending on the results, it will consider allowing shorter hours in certain regions or on particular days on a long-term basis.
While a few FamilyMart locations around the country have already tested reduced hours, broader trials in specific areas will provide a clearer picture of the impact on store sales and profits, as well as help the company rework its distribution networks. FamilyMart will also examine the impact on its own profits.
The experiment is a response to an extremely tight labor market that has made it difficult for convenience store franchise owners to recruit sufficient full- or part-time staff.
FamilyMart plans to boost support for franchisees in other ways. Its monthly payments of 100,000 yen ($897) to stores that maintain 24-hour operation will increase each fiscal year to match rises in the minimum wage. The company will double investment in existing stores to 110 billion yen for the fiscal year ending February 2020 in order to add labor-saving equipment, such as self-checkout registers.
Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Friday asked major convenience store operators, including FamilyMart and rivals Seven & i Holdings and Lawson, to draw up plans to deal with the labor shortage.
Seven & i unit Seven-Eleven Japan adopted shorter hours at 10 directly operated stores on a trial basis in late March.