Why is This Japanese Convenience Store So Popular?
Because of that encounter, J.J had an idea to start his dairy store where people will come to him for milk rather than having him deliver it to the people.
In 2019, I went on a family vacation trip to Asia after my college graduation. It had been a while since I’ve traveled overseas so you can only imagine how excited I was to get away from home for a short time.
One of the countries that I visited was Japan. Like any kid who grew up watching anime, Sailor Moon, and who was curious to visit Shibuya, I was thrilled to visit Tokyo!
So the hotel that we stayed at was located right next door to a convenience store named…Lawson. Every day, we went to Lawson to get coffee, fishball soup, spicy chicken, and a few other convenient-style foods before we ventured off in our day.
So, fast-forward to this year, I’m at home in quarantine and I wanted to learn more about Lawson. I knew it started in the U.S but I wanted to expand more on my research.
Here’s what I learned about this historic convenience store that began in the late-1930s.
In 1939, a dairy owner named James “J.J” Lawson started a store to sell milk in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. According to Akron Beacon Journal, J.J Lawson was struggling to keep up with his competitors who were also delivering milk. So one day, when Lawson was picking up milk, he stumbled upon an Amish woman who filled up milk in a pitcher. After she finished getting the milk, she reached into her pocket, paid him, and left the area. Because of that encounter, J.J had an idea to start his dairy store where people will come to him for milk rather than having him deliver it to the people (2012).
So this milk chain grew fairly quickly around Ohio. It expanded into something more than just a place to grab milk. It had a lot of essential foods and drinks where people can purchase their goods at their convenience. According to Market Place, Lawson also had a catchy jingle for its orange juice. Anyone who lived in Ohio at that time would most likely remember the jingle as it brought back some great memories to them about the store (2018).
According to Akron Beacon Journal, one of the reasons why J.J Lawson decided to sell “Lawson’s” was because Norman Lawson (one of J.J Lawson’s son), was too young to run the company at the time. On top of that, J.J Lawson was getting old and the decision also revolved around Norman’s brother’s death.
So, in 1959, Consolidated Foods bought Lawson and they made some changes to the store. Sometime between the 1960s — 1980s, Lawson started to sell orange juice, milk, bread, eggs, and even more essential type of food that people can purchase at their convenience. It was more expanded compared to what Lawson offered before they sold their company.
In the mid-1980s, Lawson was then sold to Dairy Mart, which was a smaller chain convenience store located in Enfield, Connecticut. According to Lawson Japan Official Website and Wikipedia, Dairy Mart moved its headquarters to Cuyahoga Falls, renamed Lawson’s stores, and operated as “Dairy Mart” for the next 17 years.
Between 2001–2002, a Quebec-based convenience store company named Alimentation Couche-Tard bought the name and assets of Dairy Mart. Many Dairy Mart’s in Canada, converted to Circle K stores which (interestingly enough) still has some influences from Lawson (Market Place).
But the real question that we’re all curious about is…How in the world did an Ohio-based company make its way to Japan?
Let’s rewind to the 1970s when Consolidated Foods signed a formal contract with Daiei, one of the largest supermarket chains in Japan. At this time, the convenience store was a “new” concept to Japan. I’m assuming Daiei saw potential in Lawson so they took a risk with it, made their adjustments, and then brought it over Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture in 1975 where the first store was opened.
According to Market Place, Lawson was placed in a densely packed city where it influenced a modern way of living. Because of the (fairly) new concept of modernizing convenient food, Lawson took off in Japan.
However, the “first” convenience store in Japan was actually 7-Eleven when it came in 1969. In fact, 7-Eleven still ranks as the biggest and popular convenience store in Japan. The second-biggest convenience store chain is Family Mart and later on, Lawson came into the picture as being the third biggest convenience store (Yabai, 2017).
There’s no particular reason why Lawson took off, but I’m assuming it had something to do with other business ventures that Japan had under Lawson. On top of that, each convenience store is popular for a particular snack, drink, and/or food (Lawson Japan Official Website).
As of May 2020, Lawson operates over 14,000 stores in Japan (via Market Place). Even though there’s so much history behind this convenience store, there’s not much information on why Japan chose to stick with “Lawson” and not another name.
At the same time, it’s great to see that Japan kept the signage and name. According to Norman Lawson, he was the one who helped come up with the signage and the company’s logo was designed by Smith & Scherr Industrial Design of Akron (Arkon Beacon Journal, 2012).
As of 2020, Lawson can be found internationally in China, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and many more Asian countries (Lawson Japan Official Website).
Did Lawson ever come back to the United States?
The good news for us is…yes it did come back to the U.S in 2012!
However, Lawson is only found in Hawaii in the Sheraton Waikiki and Moana Hotel (via Wikipedia). That’s not to say that Lawson will never come back to Ohio or expand around the U.S.
In my opinion, it’s a good first step back into the U.S and maybe in the future, Lawson will expand around the 50 states.