Melbourne as an Asia Pacific base for business: MUJI

MUJI is a Japanese retailer of consumer goods with over 200 outlets in over 20 countries, and over 250 stores in Japan. Established the 1980's, With so many successful stores already around the globe, MUJI owes its popularity to satisfying consumers' rising demand for lifestyle and household products of simple, natural design, minimal branding and packaging, often sourced from sustainable products. MUJI now has two stores and it's Australian headquarters in Melbourne.

Melbourne, the best cultural fit for MUJI

When MUJI, Japan's third largest retailer, decided to bring its product and a new HQ to Australia in 2013, Melbourne was its first choice. MUJI's Australian-based director Hisashi Takeyama said they saw great potential in Melbourne because of a strong arts community and its healthy retail sector.

Setting up retail HQ in Melbourne

Video: MUJI Retail: Managing Director Australia, Hisashi Takeyama

After lengthy research helped along by our Tokyo Office, MUJI opened its first Australian store in Chadstone, Australia's largest regional shopping complex, and based its Australian corporate headquarters in Melbourne as well. Driving this was MUJI's sense that Melbourne would be Australia's best cultural fit for this innovative brand. MUJI opened its second Melbourne store at the Emporium, in the heart of the city, in 2014.

"As you're all aware, Melbourne is a birthplace of many retail businesses, and we considered the fact that Melbourne has a diverse culture and is multicultural. We felt that expanding our business into Melbourne first, which is the cultural capital, is a great place for establishing our brand, so that's why we selected Melbourne".

Setting up in Melbourne: MUJI tries a new approach

Yet months before coming to Australia, MUJI had worked on and off with our team at our Invest Victoria Tokyo office to help MUJI decide the best way to structure their new business in Australia.

A crucial question that came from MUJI's lengthy research was, would their joint-venture business model work in Australia? After a while they realised it wouldn't, and they saw a new approach was needed—a 100% subsidiary, so far untried in an overseas market.  Our Tokyo Office provided MUJI with quality information to see if the idea could work.

"So, for the business expansion that we did this time around, we took the format of having a 100% subsidiary. …as you know the Victoria government has a branch in Tokyo. So when I was in Tokyo, I received support over there", said Mr Takeyama.

This joint work also confirmed the local market would appreciate the design philosophy behind the MUJI brand.

Introducing MUJI to Melbourne: a pop up store and a lecture on simplicity

Introducing a new product to a new market is hard work. At Invest Victoria we helped MUJI get some initial exposure by showcasing some of their products with a pop-up store at the Spring Fashion Week, after introducing them to the City of Melbourne.

To help get Melbourne in the mood for MUJI, their world-renowned art director Mr Kenya Hara, gave an open lecture at RMIT University, articulating his design philosophy and the relationship between emptiness and simplicity in design, an event we helped promote through our contacts' channels. We also provided MUJI with information about possible sites around Melbourne.

Invest Victoria's ongoing support: confidence building

At Invest Victoria we understand the kind of support and business intelligence a potential investor like MUJI needs when they start up in Melbourne. Our support is often very practical. It could be as simple as helping the new firm find a reliable logistics supplier or better understand some of our local labour laws. We also provide lots of business connections. We think this is essential, and something Mr Takeyama found helpful.

"Despite the fact that we had to start from virtually nothing the Victorian government introduced us to appropriate companies in Melbourne and were able to consult with those companies until we were satisfied. And in that sense having a contact point, where we were able to discuss everything including any concerns we had, was extremely necessary and effective when considering investing or expanding", Mr Takeyama said.

"When I came to Melbourne for our business trip, the person in charge in Melbourne arranged appointments, and from that person we were introduced to the appropriate people and thereon we were able to negotiate and develop our business", he said.

After many months, MUJI and our team Invest Victoria have built a working relationship, now a partnership. Key to the success is our ongoing support and professional service, a service we're able to offer at no charge.

Thinking of expanding? Contact Invest Victoria

Innovative firms like MUJI thinking of expanding to the Asia Pacific or Australia should feel confident about Melbourne's business potential and its cultural receptiveness to brands like MUJI. As MUJI's Australian-based Director Hisashi Takeyama said, "Melbourne is a great place to establish your brand".