Muji Gets Active in U.S.

After a decade in the U.S., the international retailer starts to feel at home.

NEW YORK — When Muji’s first U.S. store bowed in SoHo here in 2007, it broke a company sales record on the first day. Curiosity about the Japanese retailer contributed to that early success. But it then took the company another eight years of educating shoppers about its assortments and merchandising approach for Muji to feel confident it had built enough recognition to justify a flagship on Fifth Avenue.

“When I began, the brand awareness was a little lower than now,” said Toru Tsunoda, president of Muji USA. “Now we have social media and people understand our Muji stores. Hopefully we can gain more and more stores.”

Tsunoda clearly has stores on his mind. A 7,300-square-foot unit is opening in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn later this summer, the brand’s original SoHo store is being renovated and expanded, and a unit planned for Santa Monica, Calif., “will be one of the biggest” in the U.S., Tsunoda said.

Muji’s Williamsburg store at 200 Wythe Street will offer a range of signature collections, including apparel, kitchenware, tableware, furniture, interior and storage products, accessories, stationery, skin-care and travel items.

The Williamsburg store will have an embroidery station where shoppers can customize textile items with more than 300 embroidered designs. A gift-wrapping table will let customers personalize brown bags using stamps from the Muji for You station. When they’re finished, a sales associate will use a special machine to sew the bag shut with gilded thread.

We’ll also have shirts, dresses and innerwear products, and some things residents will need to buy, like socks,” he said. Furniture including storage pieces, compact sofas and table sets will also be sold.

“At Muji Wiliamsburg, the brand will collaborate with local artists and artisans on projects that pay homage to Brooklyn’s vibrant creative scene and connect the diverse families that inhabit the area,” Tsunoda said.

Following the reopening of the SoHo location, the Williamsburg store will be the retailer’s seventh unit in the greater New York area.

“The Williamsburg store is bigger than usual,” Tsunoda said. “This will be the standard size of our new stores. The main reason for the bigger stores is that we want to stock more lifestyle products. We don’t have all the products we really want to have in the U.S. right now. We’re preparing for 2018 stores.”

Muji’s SoHo flagship at 445 Broadway has been under renovation since March. When it reopens in the fall, it will have twice the selling space and a new second floor. A 3,073-square-foot pop-up shop today opened at 444 Broadway and will operate through Oct. 1. The pop-up will offer apparel, including a selection of sale merchandise; skin care; stationery, and other top-selling products. Once the SoHo unit reopens, it will feature flagship-like services such as the embroidery stations found at the Fifth Avenue and Brooklyn locations.

“The SoHo store design is that it will emphasize natural materials such as glass, brick and cement,” said Tsunoda, adding that floors will be tile and wood.

Muji’s second flagship, which opened this year on Newbury Street in Boston, is considered a fashion store with a larger apparel selection than typical units. Muji Labo, which means lab, consists of the next generation of elevated basics. Every season Muji partners with a designer to create a one-off Labo collection, which is sold at the Newbury Street and Fifth Avenue flagships.

In addition to an existing store at 2936 Main Street in Santa Monica, Tsunoda revealed that Muji plans to open a second Santa Monica location. He declined to given any details other than “it will be one of the biggest stores and we’ll keep both Santa Monica stores open.”

Muji’s other California units are in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Stanford, and Santa Anita.

Muji is concerned with elevating service in stores.“We’ll enhance the expertise of the store staff to include advice on interiors,” Tsunoda said, “so staff can advise on furniture. With travel advice, staff can help customers prepare for trips by advising them on how to organize their packing. Styling advice isn’t only concentrated on trends, but includes practical clothing advice on how to take care of products, such as laundry methods for the materials.

“Presently, retailers are closing stores and finding a way to make their business through online retail,” Tsunoda added. “But we at Muji believe this is the opportunity for us to have customers come and experience our actual stores by increasing in-store experiences, such as workshops, special services and specialized store staff. I’m committed to continuing to operate and provide higher services.”

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