By Sarah Noorbakhsh
Opened in July 2001 as an effort by Lawson Inc to strengthen one of their weakest markets, new convenience store chain Natural Lawson chose “beauty,” “health” and “comfortable lifestyle” as their keywords to open the door towards marketing for women in their 20s and 30s. The brand became a consolidated subsidiary in 2004, where it grew and prospered until the company restructuring in 2007, when it was liquidated and re-absorbed back into the parent company.
During these three years, the company built up its identity by developing a unique “Natural Lawson Brand” of nutritious, low-calorie foods and health products with natural ingredients. At the time of liquidation, the company had ¥98 million in capital and stock prices were on the rise. Lawson has publically stated that their goal for re-incorporating Natural Lawson is to integrate knowledge gained during the brand’s independent operations into all Lawson store management. It also plans to market Natural Lawson and other new brands in normal stores, and the creation of “hybrid stores” in the Kansai area.
Along with Lawson Store 100, Natural Lawson will be part of the company’s master plan to not only widen its customer base but also to strengthen it by catering to a higher level of consumer. The company has also commented that they would like to franchise the brand and have begun to take steps in that direction; although the total number of stores decreased from 107 in 2007 to 92 in 2008, the number of franchised locations has increased from 7 to 15 respectively.
Natural Lawson uses the appeal of both quality products and a modern atmosphere to create a convenience store that targets a tough, female niche market. All products are advertised as having no artificial additives and preservatives, and particular touches such as organic wine, aroma oil and skin care products cater perfectly to a consumer base of young metropolitan women. Many stores also have bakeries called “LOHAS Kitchens” and in-store café seating, as well as dim lighting and aisles wide enough for strollers and wheelchairs.
However, Natural Lawson’s prices are slightly higher than competing convenience stores, and, while the company plans to market the brand as being slightly upscale, it’s unclear how the chain will fare as the rising price of commodities encourages consumer penny-pinching. The company has yet to publish statistical information regarding sales at Natural Lawson stores since they took over, and also declined to comment on their future plans for the brand. JI