By Craig Patterson
Minimalist Japanese retailer Muji has announced that it will be expanding its store at CF Richmond Centre in suburban Vancouver this spring to become another flagship location for the brand. The Richmond Muji opened in the spring of 2018, and the expansion announcement comes before the store is even a year old.
Muji has been re-evaluating its Canadian operations and as part of that, it is looking to open larger stores. That’s according to Masaaki Kanai, Chairman of parent company Ryohin Keikaku, who told us in an interview several months ago that Muji is not only looking at opening substantially larger stores, but that it is also considering opening grocery stores, hotels, designing public realm, and even getting into residential development.
Muji’s CF Richmond Centre store currently spans 6,252 square feet on one level, and it will add almost 50% more retail space when it annexes an adjacent unit. By the time the renovation and expansion is completed, the store will span an impressive 9,212 square feet, making it the fifth largest Muji store in Canada — but still its smallest in the Vancouver area, remarkably. Muji says that it will provide further details on what will be in the expanded store, and the expansion is likely an effort to replicate the flagship Robson Street and Metropolis at Metrotown flagship in terms of store experience, both in product selection and retail footprint.
In the Vancouver market, Muji opened its first store at Metropolis at Metrotown in August of 2017, followed by a large flagship on Robson Street in December of that year. The Robson Street store is the largest in the region with 14,507 square feet of retail space, and the Metropolis at Metrotown store, which was 7,770 square feet when it first opened, was expanded to 12,305 square feet in order to also bring it more in line with the offerings at the Robson Street flagship, with both units being among the top sellers in the chain in North America.
That means that all three of Muji’s Vancouver-area stores will be flagships. Furthermore, all three Vancouver stores will be larger than the retailer’s Toronto locations, except for the downtown Toronto store which was expanded to a whopping 19,110 square feet in November.
The downtown Toronto store, located at 20 Dundas Street West in the Atrium complex, was the first location in Canada when it opened in November of 2014. The store was only 4,373 square feet on one level (before the recent expansion). That was followed by a 5,225 square foot store at Mississauga’s Square One in November of 2015, followed by the October 2016 opening at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre (6,375 square feet) and the Summer 2017 debut of a 6,000 square foot space at CF Markville, north of Toronto. A store at Scarborough Town Centre, measuring about 6,800 square feet, opened in March of 2018.
Given the expansion of the two Vancouver units, one might speculate that Muji may seek to expand some of its other Toronto units, depending on their performance. In our interview with Mr. Kanai in the fall, he explained how Muji had underestimated the Canadian market and that it had plans for expanded and new stores, as well as non-retail concepts.
Brokerage CBRE has been involved with Muji’s negotiations across Canada, led by Arlin Markowitz, Senior Vice President of CBRE's Downtown Toronto Urban Retail Team. CBRE Vancouver's office, including Martin Moriarty and Mario Negris, were involved in negotiating the three Vancouver deals, including the two expansions.
We’ll continue to follow Muji’s expansion in Canada, as it plans to operate about 30 stores in Canada over the next few years. Sources are saying that the Montreal market could be in line for a Muji flagship store, and that secondary markets such as Edmonton and Calgary are also expected to see stores as Muji expands nationally. There are plenty of ‘unknowns’ in terms of non-retail initiatives, and rumour has it that Muji may be opening a Muji Hotel in a new development in Toronto, though it’s unconfirmed at this time.