Inside MUJI’S 1st Canadian Store

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By Jennifer Pilkington

MUJI Atrium opened in Toronto this Saturday with long line-ups for it’s country launch. The retailer faces the same challenges as any new retailer to Canada, and methodically selected a smart location, determined a strong product mix, and ensured good inventory levels. 

The Atrium in downtown Toronto is directly across from the foot-traffic heavy Toronto Eaton Centre and Dundas Square. With a Dundas Street-facing entrance next to Forever 21, the retailer avoids high rent while benefiting from the block’s significant foot traffic. 

The store at 4400 square feet is half the size of MUJI’s Hollywood location, the largest North American offering. Launching downtown often means smaller spaces. In Japan, where the retailer has 385 stores, 7000 different products are offered, including widely popular grocery, snacks, confectionary and even prefab (ready made) houses for small city spaces.

PHOTO: RETAIL ASSEMBLY

Toronto launches without the houses and food, although the latter can be expected in Canada eventually.  

The 2800 products that are on offer are some of MUJI’s best: a mellow tonal cuckoo clock, the aroma diffuser that waves pure plant-based fragrant oils, simple, well-designed functional products and stationery. 

Each product is made with the care and consideration of the MUJI merchandising team. Ensuring each item is pleasant to use, and made with sustainable practices is important for the retailer. Minerals are used to colour, patterns are not used because of their excessive production requirements, items are designed simply and timelessly of natural materials.

MUJI’S FAMOUS AROMA DIFFUSER. PHOTO: RETAIL ASSEMBLY

MUJI’s much-loved stationery department is located at the mall entrance, next to mens basics. The home department includes kitchen utensils, dishes, textiles, and travel. This area typically generates 54 percent of the company’s sales, but Canadian president, Mr. Toru Tsunoda sees significant opportunity in womens apparel, and beauty in Toronto. 

“Its looks like womens apparel is the most prospective category including shirts and knit products. Another big category is health and beauty,” said Mr Tsunoda in a Japanese-language interview. The women’s apparel department opens the store to the right, gift and basics at the entrance, flowing into travel and beauty at the cash. 
 
The retailer is known to spend little on market research and advertising. However it is clear from conversations with Mr. Tsunoda and his team that they are, nonetheless, very well researched. Shopping the local market was a key component to developing the launch assortment strategy. 

PHOTO: RETAIL ASSEMBLY

The product available in Canada is the same product available at the almost 650 MUJI stores across the world. “We are trying to harmonize and sell products that are available [everywhere]. The only difference is the sizes”, Mr. Tsunoda emphasizes. Food and safety regulations require some adjustments, but otherwise the products that are successful in one area will be offered in other geographic regions. 

‘Creating MUJI fans’ is the retailer’s number one priority. Their unbranded, quality items – the definition of Mujirushi Ryohin, the phrase which the retailer generates its name from – have a global cult following. While MUJI does not have the brand recognition of say Target or Nordstrom, it does have a smart launch strategy. Fans first, more stores second. 

It’s a quieter approach than we’ve seen from both Target’s mass launch, and Nordstrom’s PR based entrance. Each country / region has to operate profitably as it’s own company within the Japanese holding organization Ryohin Keikaku Co. Ltd. This is perhaps what drives the fans-first approach, and ultimately line-ups out the door on launch day. “My dream is to open a space as large as [in] the United States”, Mr. Tsunoda says with a smile. 

Visit MUJI Atrium on Bay is located at 20 Dundas St. W., Toronto ON | Monday-Friday 10:00am-8:00pm, Saturday, 10:00am-7:00pm, Sunday, 11:00am-5:00pm. 

A merchant first, now Managing Director of RETAIL ASSEMBLY Inc., Jennifer continues to work with the globe’s best brands and retailers. Always a champion of excellent creative and meaningful commerce, she works to build businesses and train/develop teams. retail-assembly.org | @RetailAssembly 

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