Lifestyle retailing: Northern Europe leading the way (for EURObiZ Japan)
TOKYO –– Finnish author Tove Jansson’s Moomins of Moominvalley are an unusual childlike bunch, but they hold a fascinating charm.
Management at FinTech Global Incorporated, a boutique investment bank in Tokyo, has recognised Moomin’s unique appeal, and is busy laying the groundwork for Metsä, an ambitious development on a 46-acre woodland site north of Tokyo at Lake Miyazawa. Metsä, meaning “forest” in Finnish, will have both Finnish-style boutiques and restaurants. It will also be the site of Moomin Valley Park, only the second Moomin theme park in the world, after Moomin World in Naantali, Finland.
One might ask, why build a Moomin theme park in Japan, of all places? And why now? In fact, the proposition is not at all far-fetched. The Moomins have tremendous name recognition and appeal in Japan, especially among older Japanese who recall with great fondness the Moomin books and telecasts of the 1960s and 1970s.
“Scandinavian children’s tales — like those of Tove Jansson, Astrid Lindgren and others who have their origin in calm, democratic and gender-equal societies — have done extremely well in Asia,” says Roleff Kråkström, managing director of Moomin Characters. Kråkström estimates that Japanese consumers are currently responsible for 35% to 40% of global sales of Moomin products. And this over a 10-year period when Moomin Characters, the Moomin copyright holder, experienced percentage growth in the triple digits.
But Moomin’s nostalgic appeal to Japan’s ageing baby boomers is secondary to the greater trend at work here: Scandinavian culture and lifestyle’s huge and growing marketability in Japan.
Sweden’s IKEA Japan has truly been a force to be reckoned with since the Japan subsidiary was re-established in 2006. This in spite of the furniture giant being humbled by its failure in the 1980s to enter the country’s demanding marketplace. To date, eight massive depots have been built. An IKEA Touchpoint store in Kyushu opened last October, and another mega-sized depot in Nagakute City near Nagoya is on the way, with an online store expected to follow.
IKEA’s huge appeal in Japan stems from its determination to offer products that combine good design and quality with affordable pricing, according to Peter List, president and CEO of IKEA Japan.
“We continue to visit people’s homes all over the world and to learn about their different lifestyle needs,” says List. “Our vision goes beyond home furnishings. We want to create a better living experience for all people our business touches.”
Henning v.G. Rosted, the regional president for Japan and the Asia–Pacific at Carl Hansen & Søn, a Danish furniture manufacturer, explains: “Scandinavian interior style is very much centred on providing warmth and cosiness through the liberal use of blankets, rugs, cushions, candles and dim lighting. What we express at Carl Hansen is a similar type of intimacy, conveyed through the simple and authentic furniture of Hans J. Wegner and others of the 1950s and ’60s era of Danish Modern.
“We have traditionally been a stellar brand in the residential or private consumer sector,” adds Rosted, “but in recent years we have been tapping very strongly into Japan’s professional segment — hotels, restaurants and other environments where dining and living room sets are needed.”
Another Scandinavian — actually, hybrid Swedish–Japanese — retailer with deep roots in Japan is Sweden House, a housing company that has built custom homes for Japanese families since 1984. The company is perhaps more notable for the construction of Sweden Hills, a Swedish-style village in Hokkaido. Sweden House often incorporates Swedish exterior and interior design elements with Japanese homeowners’ preferences for tatami-mat flooring, temperature-controlled bathtubs and larger kitchens. Now, the company is repositioning itself for the future market with its new Hus Eco Zero.
“In December, we introduced photovoltaic solar cells and other sustainable energy technologies into our product line-up, with the intention to construct 200 fully energy–efficient homes annually,” says Masanori Suzuki, sales division director at Sweden House.
Scandinavian lifestyle’s surging popularity is hardly restricted to furniture and housing. Bang & Olufsen, the Danish luxury sound systems-maker, continues to make strides in Japan.
While home entertainment systems appear to have taken a backseat to affordable mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablets, Bang & Olufsen’s designer stereos and televisions have not lost their edge. In Japan, the high-tech retailer aims to open 20 stores in the next three years, with a turnover target of ¥2 billion.
“We strive to create enduring magical experiences for our customers,” says Yumiko Kanai, marketing manager at Bang & Olufsen Japan.
“The Danes and Japanese share an appreciation for high-quality minimalism and functionality,” adds Matteo Gaeta, president of Fiskars Business Region Asia-Pacific. It owns Royal Copenhagen and other Scandinavian brands, such as Iittala and Rörstrand.
Sweden’s Hennes & Mauritz, better known as H&M, is yet another retailer to enjoy huge growth in Japan. The clothing giant recently opened its 55th outlet here, and attributes its continuing success to its belief in the importance of catering to a diversity of fashion preferences, from modern basics to current and cutting-edge.
Although Denmark and Sweden are famous for sophisticated lifestyle designs, two other Scandinavian countries — Norway and Finland — are less recognised in Japan for their contributions to lifestyle.
However, Michal Berg, executive director of the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce in Japan, is optimistic about the future. Among his chamber duties, Berg is editor-in-chief of StyleNORWAY, a quarterly lifestyle magazine. He is very upbeat, in large part because of the meteoric rise of Fuglen, the specialty coffee brewer, cocktail maker and furniture distributor with branch cafés in Oslo and Tokyo. Fuglen cafés, which are decorated with traditional Norwegian furnishings, double as live showrooms where customers may test the furniture and purchase any pieces they take a liking to.
The café, which made headlines in 2011 as one of design magazine Monocle’s top five selections for “best small retail concept in the world”, has also organised an international furniture exhibition called Norwegian Icons. When the exhibition came to Tokyo in 2013, it attracted roughly 7,000 visitors and was acclaimed by critics.
“Fuglen means so much to all Norwegians in Japan, and it completes the circle here for all that is Norway-related,” says Berg. “I personally am hopeful that in the future it will provide a gateway for other Norwegian products.”
Fuglen embodies the strength of Scandinavian lifestyle business in Japan and around the world, according to Trond Varlid, a Norwegian business executive and programme director of the annual Japan Market Expansion Competition.
“Here you have a small café in Oslo that, within a few short years, set up a very successful branch in Tokyo which sells its vintage design furniture in several of the country’s leading department stores. And now, it also serves its specialty coffee roasts in the showrooms of Lexus and other premium brands here,” Varlid says. “As a marketing concept, to be able to go from almost zero to where they are now, is very impressive.”
And with the many other examples of Scandinavian lifestyle’s burgeoning growth, the Fuglen story may yet be only the beginning.
Copyright © 2016 Elliot Silverberg. All rights reserved.