March 22nd, 2012

_The Success of 7-Eleven Japan_, Akira Ishikawa and Tai Nejo

Subtitled: Discovering the Secrets of the World's Best-Run Convenience Chain Stores

This thin book, published by World Scientific in 2002 (this is a 2007 reprint which I got used on Amazon) has all kinds of entertaining language artifacts. I'm not sure what to attribute the excessive use of quotations to, much less the fantastic job title, "Operation Field Counsellor" (OFC). It could be cultural differences. It could be an idiosyncratic translator. Most likely, it's a little of both. I think an OFC in our world would be somewhere in sales, but one of those positions in sales that doesn't obviously involve selling anything to anyone.

In any event, the book describes in some detail the series of networked computer systems that 7-Eleven Japan deployed starting in 1978, and the human-side logistics that went along with it. It also describes the structure (there's probably a technical term for this that I don't know) of the business and how it has evolved over time (that is: a department store chain, Ito-Yokado, made a deal with Southland, USA to start 7-Eleven Japan, which ultimately wound up taking over 7-Eleven in the US, which is a larger story than this book covered). While the focus of the book is on the information systems, the authors take great care to integrate an understanding of the information systems into human relationships between franchisees and the 7-Eleven corporation by tracing out the OFCs and the layers of management above them, and also describing relationships between the stores in general and vendors.

I bought this because R. was trying to tell me some things about 7-Eleven Japan that I was a little skeptical of. I'm not sure I would recommend the book to a general audience, even though it is quite readable and I found it interesting. It is of limited value to an audience interested in logistics, because it is now, necessarily, somewhat out of date.

If you've spent any time in Japan, and wondered about why stores seem so different there compared to here, it's possible this kind of book might lend a little insight.