7-Eleven North American Expansion on Tap

"Our U.S. business has entered the growth stage," Seven & i CEO Suzuki tells Bloomberg

Toshifumi Suzuki

TOKYO -- High on 7-Eleven parent company Seven & i Holdings Co. CEO Toshifumi Suzuki's to-do list is a renewed focus on the United States, according to Bloomberg.

He opened Japan's first 7-Eleven in Tokyo's Toyosu district in 1974 and built the brand into Japan's biggest convenience store chain. Then in 1991, after 7-Eleven brand owner Southland Corp. filed for bankruptcy, he turned around and bought the mother company.

He has since expanded 7-Eleven into 16 countries, from Indonesia to Denmark. In North America, growth has been modest, with about 8,500 stores today versus some 7,300 when Southland failed. Suzuki says that with the right management and expansion strategy, that number could increase to almost 30,000.

"Our U.S. business has entered the growth stage," Suzuki told the news agency in an interview at the company's Tokyo headquarters. "We will raise the quality of stores," he said, and acquisitions will continue.

His 15,218 Japanese outlets sell an average of $8,000 per day, versus about $4,500 for American stores, the company said. Yet Suzuki insists he can't simply clone his Japanese business for other countries.

"American 7-Eleven has to do things that satisfy American consumers," he said. "So I don't tell them to do things exactly how we do them in Japan."

While Suzuki's mastery of the convenience store trade is unchallenged in Japan, some say the same doesn't go for other parts of Seven & i.

Suzuki, who imagined a life in politics before starting his career, doesn't worry about critics and says he's rarely hesitant to follow his instincts.

"When I first decided to bring 7-Eleven to Japan, everybody said it won't succeed and opposed the idea--executives, university professors, consultants, all of them," said Suzuki, who owns a 0.57% stake in Seven & i valued at about $200 million. "I knew they were wrong."

In Japan, 7-Eleven opens stores in clusters to streamline logistics and ensure fresher produce. The company said it only wants outlets that it can supply from distribution centers within three hours, and it has stolen customers from supermarkets by offering more fresh food, bento lunches and private-label goods.

Since he entered the retail business in 1963, Suzuki has become one of Japan's most influential businessmen. A keen golfer, he still regularly visits 7-Eleven stores to buy and check merchandise.

"He knows how to take risks," Seven & i adviser Mitsuo Goto told Bloomberg.

Click here to read the full Bloomberg report.