Masatoshi Ito, the “king of convenience” who turned 7-Eleven into a global empire, passed away last Friday, aged 98.
Ito’s empire got started in 1956 when he took over his family’s store in Tokyo, quickly expanding it beyond clothes into a Japanese retail empire. But it wasn’t until the early 1970’s, on a trip to the US, that Ito spotted a 7-Eleven store — which at the time was a Dallas-based company.
Masatoshi spied an opportunity, striking a deal to open Japan’s first ever 7-Eleven in 1974 — a retail revolution quickly followed. 7-Eleven, and other convenience stores, transformed everything in many of Japan’s densely-populated, fast-paced cities, from how companies move products to the way people eat, even introducing the now iconic ready-to-eat rice ball to its shelves.
Apprentice to master
7-Eleven was so successful in Japan that it quickly outgrew its US counterpart, eventually buying a controlling stake in the American corporation in 1991. Since then, growth has hardly slowed, with the holding company Seven & I growing to more than 83,000 stores around the world. The majority are in Asian countries, with just 15% — still some 12,000 stores — in the US. Masatoshi made the convenience store so integral to daily life that the Japanese government declared it part of the national infrastructure.
Go deeper: Explore all the great things you will find in a Japanese 7-Eleven.