After decades of working on MUJI’s international operations, Satoru Matsuzaki is now the president of the company. We sat down with him for a relaxed conversation at MUJI’s new Mississauga location.
In 1980, Seiyu, a Japanese chain of supermarkets, shopping malls and department stores, estab- lished the brand Mujirushi Ryohin or MUJI. Since then, MUJI’s product line has grown to include more than 7,500 items—ranging from snacks to furniture—that are sold in over 25 countries. Seeing people carrying a MUJI shopping bag overseas has become common. Satoru Matsuzaki is the new president of MUJI after overseeing international operations since 1990. He told us about the excitement of opening up Canada’s second MUJI store and his visions for the company’s future.
Bringing Japanese culture and products to Torontonians
Q: What can we look forward to at the new MUJI Square One location and how does it differ from the downtown Toronto location?
A: Customers visiting the Atrium location in downtown Toronto tend to be younger due to the store’s location, so there we focus more on stationery and those kinds of products. However, we expect more families at the Square One store as it is located in a residential area. We’ve made more space for furniture and it is the first MUJI store to launch a children’s clothing line featuring a limited-edition Canadian design.
Q: What do you find different about your Canadian customers compared to your customers in other markets, such as Japan and the US?
A: In general, customers are similar across the globe. There is no big difference between customers in Japan, the US and Canada. We don’t offer different products or services depending on the country. Our items are things which are necessary for our daily lives and we sell the same products all over the world. If I had to think of one difference, I’d say that our clothing is most popular in China while North American customers tend to buy more miscellaneous items.
Q: Is there anything MUJI offers that might be new to Canadians that you think they should discover?
A: We haven’t worked that out yet. As I said, we provide the fundamental products for our everyday lives. Our three-year plan from 2014 to 2016 is to offer the same products all over the world. So, after 2017, we are planning to bring something new to our customers.
Q: What is the secret behind MUJI’s excellent customer service in Canada?
A: Customer service is of the utmost importance in Japan. To become successful abroad, MUJI called upon this long-standing tradition. Many companies fail because they bring their products to new environments and try to adapt to the culture of others. MUJI, on the other hand, strives to provide not only Japanese products but elements of Japanese culture as well.
Q: Can we expect to see other MUJI locations in Canada in the future?
A: We would like to open stores in Vancouver and Montreal. We received a lot of requests from MUJI lovers a couple of years ago and we tried to open a store in Vancouver, but the timing just wasn’t right. At the time, we were preparing to open a store in the US, so we decided to postpone our plans for the Vancouver store for the time being. Now it seems to be the right time to expand there; however, our next store will once again be in Toronto. Our first goal is to make MUJI a staple in the daily lives of Torontonians.
Q: What’s on the horizon for MUJI? What is the company’s vision going forward?
A: Our basic philosophy and concept have remained the same since MUJI was first established in 1980 and we have no plans to change them. Many industries with similar concepts in terms of manufacturing have tended to decline. Ideally, we’d like to help those industries and find markets to save them from extinction. Our next goal is cooperation with local communities to enrich public products. For example, the couches in Terminal 3 of Narita International Airport are from MUJI. We would like to expand our products to more public locations like that—in subway stations, for example.
Q: Why do you think you were appointed as the new president?
A: I believe that the biggest reason was my contribution to the company’s financial growth. I have been involved in overseas operations from the beginning. In the first half of this year, 30 per cent of our sales and 75 per cent of our profit increase have come from overseas markets. MUJI’s revenue from outside Japan will be more than 40 per cent of the total by the end of the year. Also, we are expecting that the number of stores abroad will exceed the number in Japan by 2017 or 2018. Another reason may be my age: I’m 61, while most of our other executives are in their 40s.
Q: What is the most important thing to remember when negotiating with overseas counterparts?
A: I always try to speak my mind—even about small things. If you don’t, people will assume that you don’t have any opinion. When I first started working, I was heavily influenced by my boss. He was a person who always gave his opinion and this was quite unique back then in Japan. I learned a lot from him.
Q: How would you sum up your relationship with MUJI?
A: I was involved in our first overseas London store opening in 1990. I was in the legal department at that time and I went to the factory to have the contract signed. Since then I’ve been working on the other overseas store openings, so MUJI has been a focal part of my business life for a long time. I have been on the road with MUJI and we will continue to expand together in the future.
Satoru Matsuzaki is the President, Representative Director and Executive Officer of Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. He started his career at Seiyu in 1978 and moved to Ryohin Keikaku in 2005. He has decades of extensive overseas business experience and has been instrumental in MUJI’s international success.