With more than 700 stores spread across three continents, the cult Japanese retailer Muji has shown no signs of slowing down its rapid international expansion. But with a nod to the company's "no label," no advertisements ethos, Muji is relying heavily on physical stores—rather than e-commerce or marketing—to help spread the word.
At an event on Thursday hosted at Muji's New York flagship store as a part of Fast Company Innovation Festival, Muji U.S.A president Asako Shimazaki announced that two new stores—one in Boston and one in Los Angeles—will be added to the 12-state U.S. roster at the turn of the year. Shimazaki said that stores like the flagship on Fifth Avenue have helped fuel this growth by introducing Muji products and the company's dedication to simplicity, affordability, and functionality to a new audience.
"Muji has a 'less is more' attitude to advertising," she said. "We prefer the Muji shopping experience to expand our customer base. We reach out to customers with our strategy—this is our basic customer policy."
Muji's no advertisements policy has been in effect since the company launched in Japan in 1980, in response to the prosperous era's over-saturation of advertisements and the use of luxury goods as a status symbol. Muji was everything the showy, ultra-luxe '80s were not: At the start, the company released just 40 goods and prized practicality and affordability over everything. It kept costs low by making innovative use of undesirable industrial materials and cutting out the fat during its production process.
But far from just a business model, Muji made its low-cost, no-frills philosophy into its identity. Muji's full name—Mujirushi Ryōhin—translates to "no brand, good quality," and its simple, unadorned products do not have a Muji label. Even as its minimalist aesthetic made it a cult brand for designers—and even with big-name designers like Naoto Fukasawa working with the company—Muji has maintained that its products are not "designed." "We don’t want to design the products, we just want to concentrate on the function," Shimazaki said in an interview prior to the event on Thursday.
Muji has been equally as consistent in its dedication to telling its stories through other means besides ads. Shimazaki put it simply: "We want to keep our product to a certain price, but if we use advertisement we have to increase our price." Instead, the company tries to reach people through press, as well as through in-store events and lectures that demonstrate the thought behind its products. Shimazaki points toward a recent talk at the flagship store with textile designer Reiko Sudo, who just released a clothing line with Muji made from recycled textiles. The event brought more than 100 people into the store and showcased the company's new product line and efforts toward sustainability.
Shimazaki says that Muji pours most of its resources into creating an in-store environment that tells Muji's story simply by showing. The flagship stores—outside of Japan, there's also one in Shanghai and in Singapore—provide the best opportunity to do that, with enough space for things like an Aroma station for mixing essential oils for its Aroma Diffuser (the company's bestseller across all markets). There's also a station for stamps to dress up stationary or tote bags, and a place for embroidering Muji's unembellished products. Muji employees are encouraged to tell customers about the company history and products throughout the store.
"In the store we can show the Muji concept and tell the Muji story," Shimazaki said at the event. Muji does have an online store, particularly for the people who don't live near their stores. But while other companies are ramping up their internet business, Muji maintains its secret weapon is its physical stores—and it just keeps adding more of them.