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New Muji flagship store in Singapore in the works

The new store, estimated to be around 3,300 square metres, will likely feature more lifestyle concepts, the chairman of Muji's parent company Ryohin Keikaku reveals.

SINGAPORE: Japanese lifestyle brand Muji is planning a new flagship store in Singapore.

Masaaki Kanai, chairman of Muji's parent company Ryohin Keikaku, said on Tuesday (Mar 15) that the new flagship store is estimated to be around 3,300 square metres and will feature more lifestyle concepts.

"Apart from the usual Muji products, the store will have an 'Open Muji' concept where community creators are invited to interact with us. This is in line with our objective to create an interactive society," said Mr Kanai, who was speaking to the media at a roundtable interview following his keynote presentation at The Innovation by Design Conference in Singapore.

Muji, whose full name Mujirushi Ryohin translates to "no brand, good quality", declined to reveal the specific timeline for the opening of the new store.

The Japanese retailer currently has 10 outlets in Singapore, including a travel-concept store Muji To Go located at Changi Airport Terminal 2 and Cafe & Meal Muji, which opened at Paragon last year. 

GLOBAL EXPANSION

The plan to add to its stores in Singapore comes as the lifestyle brand, known for its unorthodox no-brand philosophy and focus on well-designed and practical household items, is carrying out a global expansion.

According to Mr Kanai, by 2017 Muji will likely have more overseas stores than the 284 it has in Japan, as it seeks for growth outside its mature domestic market.

Among the top two key growth markets are China and the United States.

"China is leading the growth due to its big population, while we had a good start in the USA where we are seeing 300 billion yen in annual turnover," said Mr Kanai, who has worked at Muji since its founding.

Even as concerns continue about slowing growth in China and the spending power of its consumers, Muji remains upbeat about the world's second-biggest economy, where it intends to increase its pace of store openings to 50 per year from 2017. 

Ryohin Keikaku had 128 stores in China as of end-May 2015, its biggest market outside Japan.

"I'm not so worried because the generation born after the 1980s are relatively well-off and they emphasize on a good lifestyle, and that's in line with our philosophy."

Despite the rapid worldwide expansion, Mr Kanai emphasized that the Japanese retailer does not intend to "grow too big" and prefers to stay as a "small and medium-sized enterprise (SME)" so as to stay true to its design philosophy.

"When a company grows too big, it's not a good thing because the management will tend to emphasize more on ensuring a profit. That's not our objective," the chairman said.

"Our objective is still to offer something useful to our consumers."

BRACING FOR SALES TAX HIKE

Back in its home market, Muji is keeping an eye on the planned increase in the consumption tax, from 8 per cent to 10 per cent, in April 2017. 

Aimed at reining in Japan's massive public debt, the sales tax was first raised from 5 per cent to 8 per cent last April. The move, however, took a toll on consumer spending and the country's retail sales.

To combat the negative impact, Muji lowered the retail prices of its products following the tax hike, and opted for cost-cutting measures.

When asked whether Muji is worried about the impact of a second increase in the sales tax, Mr Kanai said: "There was certainly an impact on profit and sales during the last sales tax hike in 2014. If there's a raise again next April, retail sales will likely come down."