PARIS – Signaling how Japanese retailers are increasingly looking beyond their borders for expansion, Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. plans to open a 1,000-square-foot store in Paris in September that will spotlight Japanese home wares and fashions.
The diminutive unit is seen as a precursor to a bigger location in the French capital — and one that targets locals, rather than tourists.
Disclosing the expansion strategy in an interview here, Hiroshi Onishi, president and chief executive officer of Japan’s largest department store operator, said he ultimately hopes to open a new store format of about 10,000 square feet within the next two or three years — either in Paris, London or New York, depending on the real estate opportunity.
He noted the retailer would consider a venue akin to one Uniqlo chose for a new concept in 2014: A three-level unit in a former jewelry-waste foundry in the Marais district.
He characterized the initial unit at the Japanese Culture House of Paris on the Quai Branly near the Eiffel Tower as more of a “marketing” exercise, as it is only expected to generate revenues of about 1 million euros, or $1.1 million at current exchange rates, and is not expected to be profitable.
Yet the new store is seen as a crucial showcase for Japanese craftsmanship, foreshadowing what could be an “explosion” of exports under the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, Onishi said, citing foodstuffs, footwear and accessories among categories with particular potential.
To wit: Isetan recently exhibited its women’s private label shoe collection, No. 21, at the Premiere Classe trade show in Paris and expects to expand its wholesale footprint beyond Korea, where it has been present for two seasons. Onishi said he hopes to commence European and North American shipments of the line, considered mid-priced and manufactured mainly in Japan, starting with the fall-winter 2016 season.
In Japan, Isetan Mitsukoshi has also shifted to smaller-format specialty stores. These include a chain of multi-brand beauty stores called Isetan Mirror and Isetan Salone, a curated mini-Isetan that opened in the Roppongi district of Tokyo last year.
The executive was upfront that the retail business in Japan remains tough, as the market is shrinking and spending power is diminishing. What’s more, he lamented that preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics are putting an inordinate focus on Tokyo — at the expense of the rest of the country.
At present, Isetan Mitsukoshi operates 26 department stores in Japan, and 37 locations abroad, 18 of the latter operated at a minority stake with local partners.
International sales currently represent about 7 percent of the total department store business — a ratio Onishi hopes to grow to 10 percent, noting that business in China and Southeast Asia, with the exception of Taiwan, is also tough.
The Japanese firm used to operate a Mitsukoshi in Paris, but that store targeted mainly Japanese tourists and was shuttered about five years ago, while a store in London’s Regent Street shuttered about three years ago. A similar unit continues in operation in Rome, while the retailer operated a pop-up shop in New York two years ago during New York Fashion Week.
The forthcoming Paris unit, under the Mitsukoshi banner, is to feature tableware, pottery, stationery and decorative objects, with about one third of the space dedicated to fashions for women and men. The latter is meant to change five or six times a year, Onishi noted.
While in Paris, the ceo hosted a lavish dinner at the Plaza Athénée hotel in concert with French chef Alain Ducasse to celebrate a strong history of culinary exchange and appreciation between France and Japan.
It was also to send a message that Paris is a safe place to visit. Flights to the French capital from Japan have declined about 30 percent thanks to travel warnings in the wake of terror attacks last November that killed 130 people, according to Onishi.
Isetan and Mitsukoshi sent fewer buyers to the recent Paris Fashion Week, but enough to get the job done. “If we don’t send them, then we can’t do business,” Onishi said, stressing the importance of French and Italian collections to Isetan. “Pretty soon it’s going to go back to normal,” he predicted.