The Future of Retail – Muji

This coming week I will be doing seminars on the future of retail. A part of my research of this I got the opportunity to interview Muji. In the midst of a retail recession they are opening a super store of 1200 sqm in Stockholm. Why? And what is the key to success?

Muji was founded in 1980 as a reaction to the fixation of luxury brands or cheap stuff. Sort of our times… Their solution was to sell good quality things with no frills. And Muji means just that – “no logo”. And if you look at their things you rarely see and logos on their objects.

The design principles of Muji is clearly told. You can find references to that all over Internet. But a Muji product should follow the three principles:

1. Selection of materials
2. Streamlining of processes
3. Simplification of packaging

For a long time, Muji have been present in Europe but mainly through franchise. Last year, Muji closed that in Sweden (and other places in Europe) to fully own their pressence. As part of their reopening in Stockholm I got to meet Muji manager Ino Ryosuke.

Ino talked about the background and how it was difficult to find a space in Stockholm that can include everything they want. Today Muji holds over 7000 items in the lifestyle segment. In a store of 1200 sqm in Stockholm, they will be able to have around 4-4500 objects. Why not all? A majority of the things not let in are food items. In Stockholm one can expect to find an assortment of household good (50% of all items), fashion (40%) and food (10%).

I asked if there is anything that would not be part of the Muji assortment, and Ino replied “technology”. And for those of you who remember the extremely goodlooking cd player by Naoto Fukusawa – it is an extremely nice looking piece, but crap at sending out sound…

When talking about the new concept in Stockholm we constantly touch on the subject of interactivity. And yes, everyone knows by now that you must have activities in your store to sell things. Ino said that they will have a dedicated area for workshops, talks, events etc. This all sounds nice and logic. The important question for fall 2019 is if they can fill this area with interesting activities that drive traffic. The goal is to have a larger activity every month and a smaller event every week. It could be an upcycling event, a book launch, a cooking event – or a picture book exchange event.

Ino comes back to the concept of “experience Muji” and he talks about having people go home with a new piece of information or education rather than an extra product. I compare this to other retail stores where staff is encouraged to sell more. Muji wants people to go home with more information – not stuff.

But how do you do that? Getting staff to do this is extremly tricky. Ino mentioned that there will be lots of trainings. But also every package has a full story. Not only about content – but also teaching you something.

As a brand, Ino says, it is very important to have a culture to foster these “good” values. And Muji have an advisory board – not of financial expert – but of artists. Here is a list of the members. This board does not meet once per year but every month or more. All so that Muji becomes a bearer of culture and not just commercial knick knacks.

So, we have talked about Muji having a lot of activities and a clear culture. A third perspective they want to push as being unique is how they want to include the local culture. As part of their activity program, they deliberately want local culture to be present. There are even talks about including locally produced food in their selection. But they have a plan on how to include local, Swedish culture in their collection. What they would do is find a local object and draw inspiration from this into a whole new piece. As an example, Ino mentioned how Muji have been working with the traditional kimono and made that into a contemporary piece. Expect a Muji version of for instance “raggsocka” or “lovikkavante”.

And speaking of bringing local culture to the store – the flagship of Muji will house a full size barn from the 1950s from the northern parts of Sweden. They could have gone all Japanese – but they deliberately choose to go local.

 

Do Muji have the answere to the future of retail? Perhaps. When comparing them to IKEA or H&M they do stand out as being different. They are a massmarket company with a lot of stuff for a lot of people, but I do appreciate how they want to be a platform for culture.

The new Muji store in Stockholm opens on August 16 at Åhlens City.

You can stop reading now… But I just wanted to include some personal perspectives. I do appreciate Muji. I remember how I stumbled across the store in London in the 90s and fell in love with the packaging and some products. And it is really longlasting. This linnen shirt is from Muji and bought around 1995. Still in great shape. The shirt – not me.

I love how Muji is constantly experimenting with things. There is a small sign in the center of the picture. It says “Found Muji” and this is Tokyo. But the Found concept is amazing. Muji scouts for local longlasting objects to sell in a store. In New York they have had full themes on countries – like India, Germany and Sweden(!).

Found.

I was in New York when Muji launched the concept of Pool where they would take non-premium products and add a small thing to make it premium. Just to avoid waste. As I understand Pool is no longer running, and Muji should not be seen as a sustainable brand but rather a “concious” brand.

Plates with small marks from production gets pattern, and then sold as premium.

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