Japanese entrepreneur Masatoshi Ito died last week at 98. If you’ve ever been to Japan and marveled at its awe-inspiring 7-Elevens, you owe thanks, in part, to Ito.
In the US, 7-Eleven had sprung from the 1927 merger of several Texas icehouses, known as the Southland Ice Company. They ultimately became a chain of convenience stores, open from 7am to 11pm daily.
… entered retail as the president of his family’s clothing store. In the ‘60s, he launched Ito-Yokado, a Japanese grocery chain inspired by US supermarkets.
In the 1970s, Ito-Yokado exec Toshifumi Suzuki was attempting to secure a Denny’s license, but was wowed by 7-Eleven. Japan didn’t have anything like it, and he persuaded Ito to also become a 7-Eleven licensee.
Ito-Yokado opened its first 7-Eleven in 1974 in Tokyo…
… leading to a massive boom in 24/7 convenience stores, AKA “konbini.” By the ‘80s, Ito-Yokado’s empire — which included 4k+ 7-Elevens across Japan — was generating $12B in annual sales, per The New York Times.
- In 1991, Ito-Yokado purchased a 70% stake in the floundering Southland for $430m.
- In 1992, Ito stepped down amid accusations that the company had paid off Japanese racketeers and was replaced by Suzuki. Ito returned as honorary chairman in the late ‘90s, a position he held until his death.
But why are Japanese 7-Elevens so good?
The konbini has become a place you want to go. They have:
- Huge selections of delicious and fresh prepared foods, snacks, and beverages
- Banking, mail, travel, and other handy services
- Many have communal seating
Today, Ito-Yokado is known as Seven & I Holdings, and operates 80k+ 7-Eleven stores globally, including 21k+ in Japan.