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Delivering “Wa” with Unified Hearts via Enthusiastic Shouts of “Team WA”

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd.

PROLOGUE

ISETAN The Japan Store Kuala Lumpur (herein referred to as The Japan Store) opened in October 2016 in the heart of Kuala Lumpur as a department store that embodies Cool Japan throughout the entire building. It offers the “Real Japan,” in which customers can experience the craftsmanship, technical know-how, and aesthetic sense that Japan boasts of in a wide variety of genres, including food, fashion, cosmetics, miscellaneous merchandise, interior design goods, and lifestyle in products and services. With Cool Japan Fund, Mitsukoshi Isetan Holdings gave shape to this new type of department store, the first of its kind outside of Japan. We were able to speak with Maya Furuie, the highly active manager of the Japan Store, and Team Nadeshiko, a group created to implement Japanese-style service.

(*Information as of July 2017)


PROFILE

Maya Furuie
ISETAN The Japan Store Kuala Lumpur Manager

After graduating from Hokkaido University, Maya Furuie joined Isetan Co., Ltd. (now Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd.) She gained overseas experience in Singapore and other regions while focusing on her career in the women’s apparel department of the Isetan Shinjuku Store. Currently, she is the first store director of ISETAN The Japan Store, which opened in October 2016.

Team Nadeshiko Members: Yuki Mizutani, Megumi Okabe

chapter1 “this is japan.”, the new shape of department stores bringing Japan to the world
Mitsukoshi Isetan Holdings completely renovated the branch it first opened in Kuala Lumpur in 1990 and reopened it as The Japan Store, a commercial space with the concept of “Cool Japan” including shops and restaurants in a large 11,000 square meter space spanning six stories from the LGF to the 4F. In 2011, it began “JAPAN SENSES,” a project to showcase creations made with excellent traditional techniques from all around Japan, and in 2015 they implemented “this is japan.”, a business message both domestic and international. The Japan Store was created with that background.
Q.
It’s been eight months since the store opened. How has the local reception been?
Furuie
Many customers have said that it feels as though they’re in Japan. Since our original concept was to provide the true Japan, it makes me very happy to hear that. I believe there is a line drawn between us and the local department stores. For example, we have around 20 varieties of soy sauce alone, so that customers can enjoy finding their favorites among various products but also have certain traits that are aimed too much towards connoisseurs even from the point of view of Japanese people. We have begun adjustments so we can balance that along with our prices so even more customers can easily enjoy themselves.

The customers’main interest is, of course, food. While the food sections of all the floors add up to less than 40%, food sales comprise over 50% of total sales. The "depachika," the LGF in which prepared food and ingredients are sold, isn't just an area for food sales, but also has a large eat-in space as a major feature. Since Malaysia has a culture of eating out, many people eat and drink the products where they bought them. Sake is also a popular product, and trying it with food bought on the same floor creates a fun atmosphere similar to an “izakaya”, Japanese casual bar where you can enjoy a variety of small dishes while drinking .
Q.
You also have initiatives to introduce Japanese local specialties. What are some popular items?
Furuie
The products that sell well are items that make the best of Japanese craftsmanship, such as local sake, towels, mattresses, and pillows that can be customized. I believe that products whose value can be easily explained to customers and that have a clear “reason to buy” have potential to become very popular. By doing more research about the local customers’pereferences, we believe we can sell more various kinds of items. While that’s identical to Japan, I think market research to get to know our customers is much more important in overseas.

For example, a customer who learned more about sake in our store bought a “Nousaku” (*1) drinking vessel on a different floor to enjoy pairing it with sake. They told us they heard that sake drunk from a “Nousaku” cup is delicious and found out it actually was! I agree with them, too (laughs).

*1) “Nousaku”: a cast metal maker that opened in 1916 from Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture. They develop products such as tin Buddhist altar equipment, tea utensils, tableware, and more, and are expanding overseas.

JAPAN FOOD TOWN PLAY
tasting Japanese sake at “SHUSEKI” width= tasting Japanese sake at “SHUSEKI”

tasting Japanese sake at “SHUSEKI”

“Find Japan” shows products from regional Japan “Find Japan” shows products from regional Japan

“Find Japan” shows products from regional Japan


chapter2 It’s not just a place to sell Japanese items, but a place to experience Japanese culture
All the floors offer thoroughly Japanese-style products and customer service: the LGF serves food; the GF shows the diversity of Japan with products from the traditional to the newest technology; the 1F offers Japanese fashion culture; the 2F exemplifies the Japanese lifestyle; the 3F is where Japanese culture workshops take place; and the 4F is the restaurant floor with Japanese restaurants. It’s a space filled with overwhelming originality that isn’t only about selling Japanese products.
Q.
It seems like a prominent characteristic of this store is the offering of cultural workshops such as “Shodo”, Japanese calligraphy and “Ikebana”, the Japanese art of flower arranging.
Furuie
Even though it’s a brand new attempt, it gradually grew in popularity, and many customers have repeatedly come and enjoyed our workshops. There is also a section for art sales on the 3F, and the other day, our art products themed goldfish motifs became the talk of the town and sold better than expected. We thought that it would be better to hold workshops with items that people could take home with them.

The most popular floor is currently the 4F, the restaurant floor where you can have great experience of Japanese food. THE TOKYO RESTAURANT, a Tokyo-themed restaurant where you can enjoy Japanese-style Western food called “yoshoku,” was listed in a top ten list of TripAdvisor (*2) and there are often lines on holidays and weekends. Our store is located in an area that is keenly interested in food, so I believe that this floor is a very effective engine for attracting customers to our store. The other day, the Royal Family started their visit to our store with a meal in a restaurant on our top floor, then made their way downstairs in order. They bought products from each floor, starting with bedding and pajamas, followed by Comme des Garçons T-shirts, and finally, soba noodles made with green tea and salad dressing. I hope more customers enjoy exploring our store like as did the Royal Family.

*2) TripAdvisor: A website focused on reviews and price comparison of travel information such as hotels and restaurants.

“THE TOKYO RESTAURANT” “THE TOKYO RESTAURANT”

“THE TOKYO RESTAURANT”

“THE TOKYO RESTAURANT” “THE TOKYO RESTAURANT”
Q.
Team Nadeshiko, a group of employees that have learned about customer service via various in-service training methods and obtaining certifications, plays a key role in the business.
Mizutani
Team Nadeshiko teaches Japanese customer service to the stylists (sales staff) hired locally. We aim to have the same level of hospitality as Japan, with “smiles, greetings, and politeness” as our motto. Generally, shop staff in Malaysia don’t often greet customers, so we have received positive comments at our store from customers giving feedback to us that our staff are always smiling and friendly.
Okabe
Something great is that some of our stylists know the faces and contact information of a number of our repeat customers. They have been able to build relationships with the customers, which allows them to inform the customers of products that suit their preferences immediately. Those customers give favorable reviews to their families and friends who then become our new customers. It’s a growing trend that’s a sign they are satisfied with our service, which makes me happy.

chapter3 Live through “Wa” (“harmony”) and work as “Wa” (“circle”)
The stylists of the Japan Store are not only the bridge between the customer and the product, but also a bridge between Malaysia and Japan. They have overcome the differences in culture, and have created a space where we can share and enjoy those differences. It’s a new store that has never been seen before in the history of Japanese department stores. What will they show us next?
Q.
In what direction do you want to take The Japan Store next?
Mizutani
We have the stylists perform basic Japanese greetings and bows, and while they were clumsy at first, they have grown to perform them at the same level as Japanese people. I believe that we can continue improving. My goal is to hear “this is Japanese service” due to the similarity of smiles, greetings, and modest customer service that we offer, just like in Japanese stores.
Furuie
When we first hired stylists, we held local workshops and seminars under the theme “people who want to create a completely new store centered around Japan, gather here.” We focused on hiring people who were interested in and love Japan and Japanese culture and possibly because of that, I feel as though they enjoy working in our store. In fact, our staff turnover is relatively low, and we have had some stylists that have resigned and come back.

Something that always makes me impressed is that every morning, the stylists scattered throughout the sales floor chant “team Wa” three times. It was a habit that started as preparation before the store launched and is done with the meaning of “wa” signifying Japanese culture, how wonderful and important “wa” (harmony) is to teamwork, and how we come together as “wa” (circle) to work. Every morning, that’s confirmed, and the feeling that The Japan Store is one large family continues to grow. In order to respond to those feelings, I aim to create an environment that can improve based on their motivation and connect that to offering better services to customers which will then increase the rate of repeat customers. I want to create that favorable cycle.

※ISETAN The Japan Store Homepage

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