Global convenience: The rise of 7-Eleven

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Masatoshi Ito, the “king of convenience” who turned 7-Eleven into a global empire, passed away last Friday, aged 98.

Convenience, cornered

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.

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Global convenience: The rise of 7-Eleven