How cult Japanese brand Muji is winning over Australians

Japanese retailer Muji believes Australian shoppers are gradually coming around to its simple charms, and it will respond by opening it largest store yet in this market later this year.

The chain - which commands a cult following thanks to its simple, unbranded products that range from apparel and stationery through to beds, storage and kitchenware - opened its first store in Melbourne in 2013 and now has five across in Australia.

Muji Australia managing director Takeshi Fujimoto said people were coming around to the store. Picture: Eddie Jim

Muji Australia managing director Takeshi Fujimoto said people were coming around to the store. Picture: Eddie Jim

Muji's local sales hit $35.8 million last year, accounts lodged last month with the corporate regulator show, up from $26.7 million a year earlier, helped by the addition of two new stores.

Sales were growing rapidly even without the impact of opening new stores, up 10 per cent last year on a "like-for-like" basis, said Muji Australia managing director Takeshi Fujimoto.

Mr Fujimoto said it was mostly people who were familiar with Muji from its stores in Asia who were visiting its Australian stores when it first opened here five and a half years ago.

But the retailer was steadily attracting new Australian customers every year, he said, as people learnt about and started to understand the company and its philosophy of selling simple products of the highest quality at the lowest price.

Steve Kulmar from the consultancy RetailOasis said that Muji could be "a little intimidating" for first time shoppers.

"The stores look incredibly clean and incredibly neat, and they take a little while to get used to for what's essentially a general store," he said.

"Unless you've seen it overseas ... to just experience it in Australia for the first time would be very difficult."

Mr Kulmar said it had taken a while for Muji to get established here but it appeared to now be building its presence more rapidly.

In August, Muji will move to increase the footprint of its store in Melbourne's Chadstone shopping centre - which as the first to open here - from 300 square metres to a 1700 square-metre store. That new store will be about three-quarters the size of an average Coles or Woolworths supermarket.

Mr Fujimoto said the extra space would allow it to stock a bigger range of its products (it currently only ships about 4000 of the 7000 products it makes here).

The store will also feature "Open Muji" - a space that can be used for events, workshops, exhibitions and community meetings, run either by Muji or members of the community.

"The consumer is bored of just shopping - they would like to have an experience," Mr Fujimoto said.

The new store will be the first here to stock Muji Books, which are geared towards educational titles on sustainability and the environment, self-serve coffee and an embroidery service for its logo-free clothes.

Muji does not have any plans confirmed for new stores this year although Mr Fujimoto said he expects to open one or two stores a year over the medium term.

Beauty products, stationery, women's apparel and homewares had been the most popular products with Australians to date, Mr Fujimoto said.

Over the next 12 months he expected to grow sales in furniture and linen, and will introduce a bigger range of menswear.

Muji has 975 store worldwide, with about half of those in Japan, and recorded $5.4 billion in global revenue last year.

  • SMH/The Age
This story How cult Japanese brand Muji is winning over Australians first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.