In a bid to expand their revenue sources, major railways are rushing to open a diverse range of shops and restaurants inside urban stations.
The inside-the-station business boom stems from railways’ concerns that transport revenues will taper off as the population shrinks.
Station trade has traditionally targeted busy passengers, with an emphasis on timesaving services provided by facilities such as kiosks and fast-food stands.
But many stations now have more diversified services — including aesthetic salons — aiming to attract consumers who may not ordinarily use the stations.
East Japan Railway Co. in November opened amies confort (sic), the first salon inside the wickets, at Mejiro Station on the Yamanote Line in central Tokyo.
Using four aestheticians on loan from cosmetics giant Shiseido Co., the salon provides facial and body massage services.
The most popular course is the 80-minute facial, shop aesthetician Izumi Nakamura said, adding that some customers stay nearly two hours to take in a combination of treatments.
Although most customers are commuters, some noncommuters are taking the trouble to pay for a platform ticket to get into the salon, Nakamura said.
“It was a nice surprise to receive such thorough service in the station,” said a 27-year-old woman who came to the salon for the first time.
She said she would definitely return to the salon even if she had no other reason to be in the station.
“We aim to make our stations capable of providing various services to meet the demands of customers,” so they don’t even have to go outside, East Japan Kiosk Co. spokesman Toshihide Watanabe said.
East Japan Kiosk, an operator of station businesses, is a group company of JR East, which operates out of the Tokyo area.
The amies confort salon is part of a small inside-the-station project launched by JR East in 1997.
In 2000, the railway formulated another plan to refurbish major stations in eastern Japan — including those in Tokyo, Ibaraki and Iwate prefectures — that have more than 200,000 passengers daily.
The plan calls for redeveloping 46,000 sq. meters of station space by the end of March 2006.
Renovation plans in the greater Tokyo area cover Ueno Station, whose new collection of shops opened last March, and Omiya Station in Saitama Prefecture and Tachikawa Station in western Tokyo, both of whose new shops will open next March.
The annual sales target stipulated under the 2000 plan, which runs through 2005, is 30 billion yen, or 1.2 percent of the total group sales generated in fiscal 2002.
Overall revenue from JR East’s station businesses, including both small and large projects, stood at nearly 369 billion yen in fiscal 2002, accounting for 14.4 percent of total group revenue.
Its transport business revenue has gradually been falling — down 3.4 percent in 2002 from 1996 levels.
JR West, whose operations revolve around Osaka, is also eager to boost businesses inside stations.
In 2002 it launched a five-year renovation project covering about 130 stations, mainly in the Kansai region, most of which are used by more than 10,000 passengers a day.
The project includes creation of 150,000 sq. meters in added space for new stores. On average, the carrier hopes to generate 34 billion yen in annual sales, or 3 percent of total group sales.
The refurbishment of Osaka Station’s Midosuji exit, which was completed in December, has helped boost the number of daily visitors to the shopping area from 8,000 to 17,000, according to company spokesman Katsuya Yamada.
The 1,650-sq.-meter shopping area — consisting of a convenience store, bookstore, cafe, restaurants and an upscale supermarket — is designed to attract consumers from outside the station as well as passengers, Yamada said.
“We aim to make our stations more attractive by offering services that have not been common for them,” including clinics and nurseries, Yamada said.
Marketing consultant Masaki Nomura said these developments constitute a threat to outside stores.
“The potential of the station shop business is already huge given the great number of people using stations every day,” he said.
“If railways maximize their marketing potential, they will definitely take customers away from stores and restaurants outside the stations,” Nomura added.
But Masaaki Kondo of Nihon Restaurant Enterprise Co., a group firm of JR East that operates station restaurants, is not so optimistic.
“Station shops must provide services that are attractive enough for customers to come back,” because passengers will no longer be satisfied solely by the factor of convenience, Kondo said.