Muji, the Japanese retailer of everything from apparel and skin care to kitchen tools and storage systems, is continuing its methodical retail growth in the U.S. — even as it adds product categories to its assortment.
Muji wants to speak louder as well. The company, which has traditionally eschewed advertising, is looking to get its message out.
The first Muji mall unit, a 5,000-square-foot store, will open in July at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif. “The Muji stores in malls will all have the same style,” said Asako Shimazaki, president of Muji in the U.S.
Muji in October will open an 11,600-square-foot flagship on Fifth Avenue and 41st Street and it’s scouting for additional stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn. “We don’t have any stores uptown or in lower Manhattan,” Shimazaki said. “Brooklyn has big potential. Hong Kong is a smaller land mass than Manhattan, but it has more stores.”
Muji operates four units in Manhattan. In addition to the Eighth Avenue and 40th Street store, locations are on Broadway in SoHo, West 19th Street in Chelsea and the newest, Cooper Square, which bowed in 2013. There’s also a small store at the JetBlue terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Muji, which has been operating in the U.S. for about seven years, offers relatively high-quality private label products at gentle prices. The concept has taken a while to catch on here — the muted colors of the merchandise can make the stores seem like seas of beige and gray.
Still, the stores are becoming successful, according to Shimazaki. “We see great potential,” she said. “In Japan there’s over 400 stores and outside Japan, over 200. We’re actively looking at new markets like Boston. We’re also [considering] mall locations in New Jersey and New York state. Our sales are really healthy, and not only in new stores. Existing stores have new customers and traffic has increased. Our sales in the U.S. are up 30 percent.”
Shimazaki describes her mission as “showing everybody what is Muji. We have not spent much money on advertising our concept. In this market, with no ads, it’s really difficult to spread the word. Now we’re starting to advertise. We’re just starting to think of the future.
“The flagship will have more product range,” said Shimazaki. “It will be the first U.S. store to have food items. We’ll collaborate with local manufacturers.”
While Muji is adding product categories, its U.S. stores won’t have the range of the company’s Japanese units, which sell more than 5,000 items, nor will U.S. stores have the popular Muji cafes.
Standing in the Muji store on West 40th Street with a translator in tow, Shimazaki said, “We want to introduce more storage items. Kitchen appliances will be launched in the Palo Alto store. Usually, we tend to focus on apparel most, but our strong category is also lifestyle.”
Muji’s new body fit cushion, which falls under the lifestyle rubric, “is a bestseller all over the world,” Shimazaki said, adding that in the U.S. “our biggest sales are in essential/aroma oils.” The company sells pure oil essences such as lavender, rosemary and eucalyptus along with ultrasonic aroma diffusers. “Skin care is very popular now,” Shimazaki said.
Apparel for men and women features natural fibers. An organic cotton double gauze dress is priced at $59.95 and a French linen gauze tunic, $59.95. There’s also outerwear, innerwear, accessories, shoes, hats, socks, tote bags and luggage.
“People compare us with Uniqlo,” Shimazaki said. “Our apparel is really good-quality and reasonably priced. We have a huge merchandising team. We get new products every two weeks.”