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Lawson Japan eyes US for expansion

Convenience store owner Lawson Japan is seeking to buy chains in the US with the aim of boosting its number of overseas outlets by about a quarter within a year.

“In the US, where the market is mature, mergers and acquisitions are a simple and straightforward way for us to expand, which would also allow us to buy time to boost the number of shops,” says Sadanobu Takemasu, who became Lawson president and COO this week.

He says the group will also focus on expanding in Southeast Asia.

Lawson has about 12,500 stores in Japan and 793 outside the country, and is targeting a 26 per cent increase to 1000 overseas outlets by February.

Lawson joins other chains such as Seven & I Holdings’ 7-Eleven and FamilyMart in seeking overseas expansion while competing to displace conventional grocery shops and restaurants domestically amid Japan’s economic malaise and falling population.

Lawson has a 5.3 per cent market share of Japan’s grocery retail sales, second only to 7-Eleven’s 12.2 per cent share, according to data from Euromonitor International. The situation is the same in the fast-food market, with 7-Eleven holding a  33.8 per cent share followed by Lawson with 12.4 per cent.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he is postponing an increase in sales tax until October 2019 as the government seeks to avoid depressing private consumption.

But Takemasu says any changes in sales tax timing would have had only a temporary impact on Lawson’s business.

“In Japan, I want to focus resources on the existing businesses to strengthen them, so I’m not considering adding new businesses through mergers and acquisitions for now.”

Trading conglomerate Mitsubishi Corporation, where Takemasu was an aide to the president before joining Lawson, is Lawson’s top shareholder with a 33 per cent stake.

Lawson bought the Seijo Ishii supermarket group in 2014, and the United Cinema chain the same year.

While Lawson has outlets in China, Indonesia and the Philippines, Seven & I has about 40,000 shops outside Japan while FamilyMart has about 6000.

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