Even though innovative Japanese retailer Muji will make less than half its full range of household products available when it opens its first Canadian store in downtown Toronto late next month, shoppers will still have access to most of the housewares and apparel that have inspired fierce customer loyalty around the globe.
The retailer, which is famous for its fervent no-brand philosophy, commitment to quality, less-is-more designs and plain packaging, will make its Canadian debut Nov. 29 in the Atrium mall, across from the Eaton Centre.
Ever since The Globe and Mail revealed the company's Canadian plans in August, anticipation has been building among professional designers and other customers familiar with its wares in New York, London, Paris, Frankfurt and other major centres.
"I've been a big Muji fan since forever, making it a must-stop-and-shop on trips," Shauna Levy, president of the Design Exchange in Toronto, told The Globe at the time. "Muji's approach democratizes design and highlights the utilitarian value of good design."
The 370-square-metre Toronto store will stock 2,800 products – 2,000 houseware items and another 800 related to apparel and accessories. That compares with about 7,500 products that it typically carries at its larger Japanese emporiums and about 3,500 at its nine U.S. stores.
Missing will be its large selection of electric appliances and lucrative specialty food offerings – including its top-selling freeze-dried strawberries coated in white chocolate – because of various labelling, regulatory and technical adaptation issues that would make them uncompetitive.
The company expects each of its 255 foreign stores in 24 countries to be profitable on its own and has devised a plan centred on what it calls "global strategic items" – about one-quarter of its total product range – to achieve that goal.
"There are no reasons such products would not sell," Satoru Matsuzaki, the senior managing director responsible for overseas operations, said in August. "If they are not selling well, it means the prices aren't right. We have to review it all the time."
Muji is not a discounter, but strives to maintain what it calls "rational pricing" for functional products, including everything from its popular tableware, pens, notebooks and travel cases to jeans, 90-degree-angle socks, T-shirts and towels. A bestselling item is its single toothbrush holder, which is so stylish some restaurants use them to serve tiny appetizers.
Foreign sales accounted for 21.2 per cent of total operating revenue of $2.35-billion in fiscal 2013, and Muji is aiming to increase that to 30 per cent by 2016. China is by far its biggest foreign market.
It intends to start slowly in Canada, adding another couple of stores in Toronto by the end of next year, before spreading to other large urban markets. It will soon become the first Japanese retailer to crack the tough Indian market through a joint venture.
By 2017, the 34-year-old company expects to be operating more stores abroad than in the sluggish Japanese market, where retailers face intensifying competition from foreign and other domestic players, amid reduced spending by an aging, shrinking population and a declining work force.