Minimalist Japanese retailer MUJI has opened its largest store outside of Asia on Vancouver’s Robson Street. Thousands lined up for the store’s opening on Saturday, and the lineups are expected to continue well into 2018.
The 14,507 square foot store is unlike any MUJI location in North America, offering a host of products and services not available at its other Canadian locations. MUJI says that the store has more than 4,500 products including household goods, apparel and food, in a remarkable retail space that includes a massive skylight above part of the store.
The rounded skylight is a relic from the Robson Galleria, which once occupied the 1125 Robson Street address and housed retailers such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Pegabo Shoes and Alfred Sung. The atrium eventually became a retail space and The Gap replaced the Ralph Lauren store — MUJI occupies the former Gap space as well as the adjacent atrium, in what is now one of MUJI’s largest stores globally.
MUJI opened its first store in British Columbia in August of 2017 at Metropolis at Metrotown and at the time, it was the largest in Canada at 7,770 square feet. Both the Metrotown and Robson Street lease deals were coordinated/negotiated by Martin Moriarty and Mario Negris of CBRE Vancouver, as well as Arlin Markowitz from CBRE Toronto.
Retail Insider’s Susanne Milner attended the pre-opening on Friday evening — Satoru Matsuzaki, President of parent company Ryohin Keikaku Co. Ltd. was in attendance, as was MUJI Canada president Toru Akita as well as other officials. The opening kicked off with a traditional sake toast and Japanese drumming.
(Video above is by Susanne Milner)
A few of the store’s unique components include:
MUJI Coffee Counter: MUJI Canada partnered with Vancouver-based Ethical Bean Coffee (known for its 100% fairtrade certified, organic coffee, not to mention social responsibility, global awareness, and environmental accountability).
Book section: MUJI’s Robson Street location includes books for adults and children in a relaxing space surrounded by natural wood and plants. Books are carefully selected and displayed with related living goods, allowing customers to experience a lifestyle with books. Visitors can sit in this area to browse through the book selection while enjoying a cup of coffee. (Books are from Vancouver-based Raincoast Books)
Aroma Bar: Customers can create a customized fragrance blend by choosing from more than 40 essential oils and related unique scents. A customized bottle of essential oil costs $22.
As well, the store offers the following services:
Style Advisor: The complimentary service can be booked ahead for those seeking an updated wardrobe.
Interior Advisor: The consultation service can recommend MUJI furniture and storage solutions, not to mention how to create a relaxing living environment with the aesthetics of simplicity — something MUJI is big on. The complimentary service is for almost any room in the home, and may include a 3D simulation by the designer.
‘MUJI YOURSELF’: A customization service including embroidery, stamps, gift wrapping and label printing. Customers can personalize various MUJI products such as shirts, handkerchiefs, bags, towels, etc. Each design costs from $3 to $5, according to the size. Stamps can be used to personalize stationery and gift bags, and label printing can be used to customize various MUJI products such as stationery, storage and furniture, costing between $0.20 to $0.80 each, depending on size.
Plants: For the first time in North America, MUJI is offering live plants for shoppers. various potted plants are available for sale (from Surrey's Burnaby Lake Greenhouses), as well as a small selection of gardening accessories.
MUJI Labo: The elevated apparel line, available at selected MUJI flagships globally, was founded in 2005 and is known to “experiment with new styles, materials and manufacturing processes”.
Susanne Milner interviewed MUJI Canada president Toru Akita, and he provided some insight into the new Robson Street flagship. Interestingly, MUJI chose Robson Street after surveying guests at its January 2017 pop-up at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, where 60% of respondents surveyed said that Robson Street would be the best location for a flagship. The store was originally planned to be about 10,000 square feet (taking over the Gap space) but Mr. Akita decided that an even larger space was required for the retailer to test out new concepts.
Mr. Akita explained that the company has plans to open as many as 25 stores in Canada, and that details are being finalized for more stores in the Lower Mainland (one lease is already signed). The Metrotown store is already doing so well, in fact, that MUJI is accelerating its expansion plans for more stores in the Vancouver area — and other markets are in line for MUJI stores as well.
Alberta and Quebec are on the company’s radar for stores as is the Greater Toronto Area, which already has four MUJI stores. MUJI entered Canada through Toronto in November 2014 when it opened a 4,400 square foot store on Dundas Street West, followed by a November 2015 opening at the Square One shopping centre in Mississauga (5,225 square feet), an October 2016 opening at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre (6,375 square feet), and the summer 2017 opening of a 6,000 square foot store at CF Markville in Markham.
Overall, feedback from those who attended the store opening (including Susanne Milner and David Ian Gray of consultancy DIG360) is that the store is impressive with its minimalist design, ample use of reclaimed wood, and overall product and service selection. Mr. Gray said that he expects the store to do "exceptionally well" and that MUJI "did a great job in taking a hard-to-design legacy space and making it warm and inviting".
For those wishing to see the store, however, there might be a wait — long lineups are expected to continue into 2018 to see the new space, a phenomenon also witnessed with the opening of Canada’s first Ladurée last year a few doors west of MUJI on Robson Street, both contributing to the continued revival of Vancouver’s best-known retail strip.
See below for more photos of MUJI's Vancouver Robson Street flagship.