For more than 35 years, Japan’s Muji stores have given private brand a whole new meaning. In this edition of PLMALive! Judith Kolenburg traces the retailer’s growth.
Muji Redefines Generics
For more than 35 years, Japan’s Muji stores have given generics a whole new meaning. Judith Kolenburg traces the retailer’s growth.
Most retailers don’t like making headlines. Some carry it to an extreme. One retailer that has always preferred to be unseen, but has been very successful is the Japanese retailer Muji. It’s interesting, too, because Muji is 100% private label.
Indeed, the company is in many ways more secretive than Apple in what it reveals to the public about how its products are made. Muji is distinguished by its design minimalism, emphasis on recycling, avoidance of waste in production and packaging, and its private label or “no-brand” policy.
After starting out as the in-house brand of the Japanese Seiyu department stores in the early 1980’s, Muji spun off in 1989, emphasizing quality design, sensible use of materials and utilitarian practicality, under the slogan “Lower Priced for a Reason.” It wanted to make products that are actually useful for the customer while maintaining the ideal of the proper balance between living and the objects that make it possible. This was very different from the ideas of mass marketing and the consumer society at that time. Muji started out with a limited range of 40 products. Today, it sells over 7000 products ranging from stationery, and clothing for men and women, to food items and major kitchen appliances and has even included an automobile.
Muji’s approach is a three step one: selecting materials, scrutinizing processes, and simplifying packaging. Muji’s concept of emphasizing the intrinsic appeal of an object through rationalization and meticulous elimination of excess is closely connected to the traditionally Japanese aesthetic of “su” –– meaning plain or unadorned –– the idea that simplicity is not merely modest or frugal, but could possibly be more appealing than luxury.
Muji’s private label is positioned as a “reasonably priced” brand, keeping the retail prices of products “lower than usual” by the materials it selects, streamlining its manufacturing processes, and minimising packaging. Its own brand strategy means that little money is spent on advertisement or classical marketing, and Muji’s success is attributed to word of mouth, a simple shopping experience and the anti-brand movement. Muji’s no-brand strategy also means its products are attractive to customers who prefer unbranded products for aesthetic reasons, and because it provides an alternative to traditional branded products.
The retailer now has 610 stores globally and can be found in 25 countries. In Japan Muji sells apparel, homewares, cosmetics, electronics, and even builds homes. It has its own camping sites, once manufactured a car, has cafes and carries a wide variety of food lines including take home dinners. Muji is close to the hearts of many Japanese, and it has found a following around the globe. And most important: it is 100% private label.