Tokyo-based Lawson is a convenience store franchise chain. With 4000 stores across China, Lawson now ranks first amongst other foreign-owned convenience brands. It is eager to challenge its local rivals – convenience stores owned by China’s oil giants Sinopec, PetroChina, and the first domestic convenience chain Mei Yi Jia.
Lawson first entered the Chinese market in 1996 and kept a low profile until 2017. In 2017, the brand finally took off, increasing its store’s number to 1000. This rapid expansion was thanks to a strategic shift of market focus from Shanghai to the neighbouring city of Nanjing. New stores started to spring up in peripheral cities in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Between 2019 and 2021, Lawson’s convenience shops increased by 65%, surpassing another Japanese franchise FamilyMart. The next step for Lawson is to keep the momentum and push the number of stores further up to 10,000 by 2025, said Zhang Sheng, China’s Vice President of the company.
The secret to Lawson’s success lies in its franchise model. Before opening a new store, the brand uses local partners as springboards to reach out to resources in the supply chain and logistics. This helps find the best location and greatly reduce preparation time and operational cost.
However, there is still a long way to go before Lawson can pose a threat to the three major local franchises, whose stores collectively, are all over 20,000.