SHANGHAI -- Having focused its Chinese business on closing money-losing locations, Japanese convenience store chain Lawson plans a renewed push in the country this year, aiming to open 180 sites, five times the 2013 level.
The plan calls for opening a total of around 100 stores in Shanghai and Hangzhou, the capital of the coastal province of Zhejiang; 40 locations in the inland city of Chongqing; and 15 each in the northeastern cities of Dalian and Beijing. This will leave Lawson with a network of 550 locations in five Chinese cities by year-end. It is also considering launching a franchise elsewhere in the country.
In 2012 and 2013, Lawson kept openings to around 40 stores a year while it shut down more locations to improve profitability amid rising rents.
"The business outlook used to be cloudy but is now improving," says Motonobu Miyake, general manager of Lawson (China) Holdings. Customers are purchasing an increasing number of items in places like Shanghai and Chongqing, he notes. The company seeks to get customers to loosen their purse strings by offering new products and changing store layouts.
Lawson at one point boasted the largest store network in China among Japanese convenience store operators. But market growth led to fierce competition, and Lawson fell behind rivals Seven-Eleven Japan and FamilyMart, which have around 2,000 and 1,100 locations in China, respectively.
Aiming for a comeback, Lawson turned a joint venture into a subsidiary in 2011 and worked on rebuilding its business base.