We hit the streets of Tokyo to get a flavour of what some of Japan’s hottest retailers are doing, and discovered a strong British influence.
Super A Market
This is one of 150 stores owned by the Tomorrowland select store chain, and is the only one with this name. Fashion makes up 70% of turnover in this store, with the rest coming from beauty, homeware and an on-site bar – not an unusual feature in Japan’s stores. It serves a sophisticated 20 to 50-year-old customer in Tokyo’s affluent Minato-ku district. The ground floor focuses on premium brands, while the first offers diffusion labels and smaller brands.
Acne, Isabel Marant and John Smedley are among the brands making up the mix, with prices including an Acne jacket at ¥70,000 (£579) . Store manager Kenichi Nakamura said he visits brand showrooms in London and Paris during the buying season for sourcing, and used London indies like Dover Street Market for inspiration. After March’s earthquake the shop suffered a dip in sales, but trade has since recovered.
This is the largest of the select store chains in Japan – with more than 160 stores nationwide and net annual sales of more than ¥90,000m (£744m). It has stores branded under the United Arrows name, which focuses on men’s and women’s lifestyle ranges, but also a number that have their own identity and branding and serve particular sections of the market.
Keisuke Ikeya, the retailer’s co-ordinator for creative planning, says British brands are selling well, especially footwear from Church’s and Drake’s and Harris Tweed jackets. “We change about 10% to 20% of our brands every season, but have some regular ones like Lavenham and Mackintosh that we always stock. In an unstable world, the Japanese consumer is looking for reliability and heritage, and British brands are especially good at making people feel stable,” he says.
Ikeya adds that the company adapted the product range and interior in its stores to fit every location and is focusing on opening stores around transport hubs. “We’d like to expand the sales channels in train stations and at airports, and next week we’re opening our first store at a service station on the motorway,”he says.
United Arrows has also signed deals to license its brand name to Japanese manufacturers for use on lifestyle items such as leather bags and scarves.
Hackett Japan was launched by managing director Jiro Tanaka – who formerly headed up Aquascutum in London – in April 2008 with the support of the retailer’s founder Jeremy Hackett, who is also on the board of the Japanese venture. It has two standalone stores, 11 shop-in-shops and an outlet store.
Tanaka says: “We need to think about tailoring some of the items to the body shape of the Japanese, but they are selling well as they are. The British preppy style is very good for this market.”
Prices are roughly 20% higher at retail than in the UK, with a Fair Isle jumper at ¥24,300 (£200), a rugby shirt for ¥21,000 (£174) and a pair of woollen trousers at ¥29,400 (£243). British collaborations like an Oxford and Cambridge rowing teams limited edition range and an Aston Martin tie-up sell well in Japan.
The shopfit at this site in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district aims to epitomise a classic British gentleman’s outfitters, and is complete with two dogs – of the soft toy variety – dressed in tweed and scarves, symbolising Jeremy Hackett’s two real-life companions.
This is Tokyo’s largest department store, with a 10-floor main building housing womenswear, footwear, accessories, homeware and food, and an eight-floor annex with menswear and men’s footwear and accessories.
With a ¥40bn (£330m) turnover – 25% of the total turnover for all of Tokyo’s department stores – Isetan houses “easily over 100,000 brands”, according to Ei Kanefuji, general manager for menswear. Kanefuji started at Isetan in 1993 as a graduate trainee and now heads up menswear buying – brands stocked include Burberry, Barbour, Mackintosh and Mulberry. He says the store’s success depends on constant drops of new stock, remerchandising (a minimum of every two weeks), and new brands being introduced regularly.
“We change 30% of brands and product every year,” he says. “Japanese customers are the most informed in the world so we need to constantly evolve.” The average price of a suit is ¥76,000 (£628), but designer styles go up to ¥1m (£8,260).
“UK brands are doing well here. Buyers buy according to the themes as well as the trends,” says buyer Shinji Nakakita.
This is the indie of the moment: a five-year-old boutique at the very top end of the market. Serving the area around Minato-ku in Tokyo, where lots of TV presenters, film stars and celebrities work and live, the store aims for fashion-forward looks at high-end prices with some striking visual merchandising.
The interior looks like a nightclub, with low lighting, occasional neon signage and a plush carpet in parts – it’s meant to have the feel of a luxury hotel and it succeeds. It has two themed personal shopping VIP rooms serving some of Tokyo’s most famous citizens – more than 200 of them in fact – and top-selling brands include Balmain, Christopher Kane, Jimmy Choo, House of Holland and up-and-coming designers such as Mary Katrantzou.
The average customer spend is in the region of ¥150,000 (£1,240) and the product mix is 50% womenswear and 40% menswear, with the rest made up of quirky gadgets and electronic toys, sold on the ground floor, which appeal to wealthy Chinese customers.
Classically British retailer Cath Kidston is licensed to Sanei International in Japan, and its stores represent something of a departure from Sanei’s usual high-end licences – its other partnerships include Stella McCartney, Diane von Furstenberg and Kate Spade.
But the Cath Kidston deal, which was signed in February 2011 (at present it doesn’t include clothing), came out of a belief that the lifestyle market is a major growth area in Japanese retail. Sanei International’s senior managing director Keiji Hirose, who is in charge of the Cath Kidston strategy, says: “The company is looking at a medium-term strategy and we want to launch brands into the market.
“Since the clothing industry has been shrinking we wanted to expand into lifestyle, not just clothing, and chose to take on an existing British brand to do this.”
The move has proved successful, with 19 Cath Kidston stores in Japan.
“People in Japan spend more time at home rather than going out, so they want the type of items Cath Kidston offers,” says Hirose, adding that the challenge is to fulfil the UK head office’s demand for large sites, with expensive rents, while selling comparatively low unit price items such as wallets, priced around ¥4,000 (£33) to ¥6,000 (£49). To offset the overheads, he is keen to license adults’ and kids’ clothing to raise the average spend.