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Lawson expands in China with prefab convenience stores

Small, low-cost minimarts to pop up in parks and on factory floors

Lawson plans to open 10 prefab stores across China before the year ends. (Photo courtesy of Lawson)

SHANGHAI -- Japanese convenience store operator Lawson will begin opening prefab outlets in China that will save money on construction and give rise to a more flexible expansion strategy.

The first prefab store will open Friday in Nanjing, the capital of China's eastern Jiangsu Province. About 10 prefab stores are scheduled to open across the country before the year ends.

Unlike a conventional minimart, which takes about 20 days to build, the prefabs will take a week to complete, saving 40% on construction costs. Even if a location closes, the prefab building can be reused elsewhere.

The prefab convenience stores will come in two versions: A shop that is slightly smaller than a regular 80-sq. meter minimart and a kiosk for transit stations.

Lawson partnered with Panasonic to develop the stores. Panasonic's heat-insulating materials is said to help save 20% on electricity costs. Lawson plans to use the knowledge gained from China to open prefab stores in Japan as well.

Lawson operates more than 2,700 stores in China. The coronavirus epidemic has fueled a rise in bulk shopping, which has lifted average sales per customer. On the other hand, customer volume has dropped, owing to sheltering habits and surging online shopping.

Prefab convenience stores are still a novel concept in China, however. Lawson plans to counter online retailers by opening prefabs in parks, idle corners in factories, and other areas with small retail space but substantial foot traffic.

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