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The Los Angeles Times reports that even as UK-based Tesco plans a launch of convenience stores on the US west coast, Tokyo-based c-store chain FamilyMart “is expanding aggressively after opening its first U.S. locations in West Hollywood and Westwood last year. It hopes to have as many as 30 of its upscale, Asian-inspired Famima shops in the Los Angeles area by the end of this year, including a Santa Monica store opening Tuesday, and 250 in the U.S. by 2009.”

According to the LAT, “FamilyMart stresses hospitality, with its one-on-one ‘smile training’ for its employees in Japan and the two exclamation points in the Famima logo...The company will have to muster that kind of enthusiasm as it moves into an increasingly competitive market in which maintaining consumer loyalty is one of the biggest challenges…FamilyMart faces other challenges. Some customers have wrinkled their noses at the prices, pointing to such items as $25 canisters of tea bags. And analysts say the company must overcome obstacles that typically accompany entering a new market, such as a lack of name recognition and nuances in customer preference. That's particularly significant for convenience stores, where limited inventory leaves little room for error.”

And, the Times writes, “Famima does offer the obligatory convenience items, with cigarettes behind the counter and automated teller machines in corners. But it's the upscale goods that take center stage: Think Voss bottled water instead of Aquafina and Seventh Generation tissue, not Kleenex.

“In the market for safflower oil? Check near the ponzu sauce and sherry vinegar. Workhorses such as sushi and dim sum are offered too, as well as less familiar fare such as almond tofu and rice balls, Japan's answer to the sandwich.

“Another twist on the traditional convenience store model: modern design. Dark wood floors offset stainless-steel counters, and lime walls and mango-hued signs add pop. Hand rolls are displayed on bamboo trays, and signs explain unfamiliar items.”
KC's View:
The fact is that if you want to get into any level of the retailing business these days, you’d better come up with a unique offering that gives shoppers a compelling reason to walk in the front door. Famima may not be for everyone, and may not be for traditional c-store customers.

But who cares?

If we were running a retail company, we’d make it a capital offense to ever use words like “traditional” or “mainstream.” Feargal Quinn used to fine people at Superquinn who would refer to headquarters as anything other than as the “support office,” and that’s how you enforce real cultural change in an institution.