HIGASHI-OSAKA, Japan – Mitoshi Matsumoto, the most famous 7-Eleven store owner in Japan, wants to do something unthinkable in his 24-hour, 7-day operation. Weekly Industry: Take a day off.
So, he says, 7-Eleven is trying to get him out of business.
Mr. Matsumoto announced his plans to close the store in November so that he and his two full-time employees could start New Year's Day, Japan's most important holiday, with just a few breaks after 14 hours of work. On December 20, the parent company of 7-Eleven informed him that there had been more customer complaints in his business than in any other business in Japan. He had 10 days to address the issues or the site would be closed.
"They don't want me to take New Year's Eve. That's all there is to do," said 57-year-old Matsumoto, who has made a name for himself in Japan by publicly publicizing the company's demands contradicted franchisees to stay open 24 hours a day, "If you allow me, others will get up here and there."
His decision in February to shorten opening hours has prompted other franchisees to move from 7 -Eleven to ask for the same thing, but the company changed only slowly, so that in protest he decided to exclude the New Year.
The standoff had a national debate about the business practices of 24-hour convenience- The country's population decline in Japan has made it more difficult to find workers, and stories about the punishment of work plans have spread in a country where the H application of the company during long working hours is sometimes fatal, has been well received.
Last year, the Department of Labor approved 246 allegations related to hospitalization or overuse deaths. This emerges from government statistics, where retail is identified as one of the largest sources of complaints. Another 568 workers committed suicide due to work-related exhaustion.
However, even though shopkeepers are working longer and longer hours, it was the country's three largest supermarket chains – 7-Eleven, Lawson and FamilyMart. In a letter to Mr. Matsumoto, 7-Eleven said there were 78 complaints about his In stores this year. A statement said the threat to terminate the contract was based on the complaints and "destruction of trust" caused by his criticism of 7-Eleven's management social media.
Mr. Matsumoto and his supporters say that 7-Eleven is trying to set an example of the man who has become the face of resistance to a company that they say is exploiting their work.
"Owners cannot organize because, second, if you try, they will deal with you and put pressure on you," said Reiji Kamakura, chairman of the Convenience Store Union, a small group that has tried to attract members and change industry practices in the face of corporate opposition.
Although 7-Eleven was founded in Texas in the 1920s, it has been controlled by a Japanese company since 1991. Today it operates almost 40 percent of the more than 55,000 Japanese convenience stores.
These are 7 – an integral part of Japanese life. The government considers convenience stores such as highways and sewers to be part of the country's infrastructure. They are expected to help promote regional tourism and local policing by providing a safe place for people to flee to. The branches can be used to distribute relief supplies and relief supplies during a natural disaster.
The vast majority of Japanese 7-Elevens are owned by people like Mr. Matsumoto. The company offers them a shop front and access to a logistics network that stores rice balls, cigarettes and packed lunches on the shelves. It establishes operations with the goal of protecting the brand and providing a unified customer experience.
Under these requirements, it requires franchisees to keep their businesses open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.
The model developed by 7-Eleven worked well for years. However, it started to collapse about a decade ago.
7-Eleven and its competitors started a war of attrition and flooded the country with more locations to steal market share. Every new business diminishes the profits of its neighbors.
At the same time, the Japanese labor pool shrank, increased hourly wages and made it difficult to find reliable workers. Many franchisees responsible for paying their employees' wages were forced to work more in their own shifts.
At 7-Eleven, the cost of opening new stores was minimal. For many franchisees, however, the numbers no longer added up.
Mr. Matsumoto, a former carpenter, opened his business in 2012 in the hope of achieving a more stable income. From the beginning, he approached the company management and refused to follow the suggestions of his regional manager, how much food was ordered or which items were in stock.
In May 2018, his wife, who also worked in the shop, had died. He was having trouble finding reliable staff. In desperation, he asked his son to come home from college to help.
Nevertheless, Mr. Matsumoto worked in 12-hour shifts. And sometimes a lot more.
Then, one day in February, he told 7-Eleven that he would shorten the opening hours of his business from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
The company said that this would violate its contract rules. He would lose his shop and the tens of thousands of dollars that he had invested. He also said he would have to pay the company a penalty of approximately $ 155,000.
Mr. Matsumoto did it anyway. When the company threatened to close its business, he went to the news media.
Activists had tried for years to draw national attention to the plight of shopkeepers. But something about Mr. Matsumoto's story hit a nerve. Japanese reporters climbed into the store. Support letters and phone calls from consumers across the country have been received, he said.
Mr. Matsumoto admits that he received his fair share of customer complaints. He has been arguing with people whom he says have parked their cars in the shop's small parking lot for too long. He closed the bathroom for the public – a step practically unknown in service-friendly Japan – because customers didn't keep it clean and sometimes locked themselves in for hours. In the past, 7-Eleven's regional employees worked with him to solve the problems.
This is not the case this time, he said. When he asked to see the complaints against him, the company showed him only a few and said there were too many to give him full accounts.
In his statement, 7-Eleven stated that this was the case "Repeatedly explained to the owner of the acts that violated his contract" and added that he had not yet taken any action to correct them ,
He suspects that his activism played a role in the complaints. After his story went viral, he was attacked on Twitter and accused of smearing the company's image. His business has 270 reviews on Google Maps, many of which attack his character. Virtually all of them were written after he appeared on the news.
Some 7-Eleven owners and employees say they admire Mr. Matsumoto, but few are willing to start operating their own stores.
Nevertheless, the public outcry has given them hope that the industry will change. Large chains have promised to introduce some reforms. 7-Eleven has announced that it will cut the number of shops in a few hours. It undertook to release this New Year's Day to employees at 50 locations where it operates directly.
Mr. Matsumoto hopes that franchise stores will also be closed to show solidarity.
He met with representatives of the company on Sunday, but neither side was able to reach a satisfactory agreement. Mr. Matsumoto said that if 7-Eleven went through with his threat, he planned to go to court.
The current system could not survive much longer, he said, but 7-Eleven would not change unless the owners enforced it. So far, no one has reported.
"If we don't take a stand now," he said, "there is no future."