TOKYO -- Japan will ask four big convenience store chains to consider stepping back from 24-hour operations, as a government survey underscores the severe labor shortages that have left franchisees struggling to staff outlets.
Of the more than 11,000 franchise owners in Japan who responded to a recent survey, 61% are short-handed, and another 34% have enough staff but remain at risk of a shortage if something happens, the economy ministry said. The survey was conducted from December to March and targeted 30,000 owners who work with eight convenience store operators.
Only 53% expressed satisfaction over their franchise agreements with the chain operators, down from 69% in the previous survey done about four years ago. Many of the franchisees said they wanted discretion in setting store hours and called for company headquarters to provide personnel support when needed.
Hiroshige Seko, the economy minister, intends to meet with leaders from top market players Seven-Eleven Japan, FamilyMart Uny Holdings, Lawson and Ministop in April, when he will ask them to devise plans to tackle the staffing problem and other issues.
Potential solutions involve cutting store hours or introducing automation. The ministry will create an expert panel seeking feedback from the companies, franchise owners and consumers to gauge whether stronger steps are needed.
But the ministry is leery of excessive intervention, and at this stage, it is not legally able to do more than ask companies to take voluntary action.
"I have doubts about the government interfering so much with what businesses do," Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, told reporters Tuesday. Companies should decide for themselves how they operate, he said.
Seven-Eleven Japan, part of Seven & i Holdings, said it will work to save on staffing and communicate closely with individual franchise owners to deal with their issues. Lawson also intends to work with its franchisees.