Japanese homeware store MUJI opened on Monday its 200th MUJI store in Hangzhou. MUJI president Satoru Matsuzaki also attended the event, Chinese tech media Ifanr reported.

As the year 2016 draws to an end, this milestone event marks the onset of a new stage for MUJI, which aims to grow beyond a mere homeware retailer that sells everyday goods, and into one that promotes a certain lifestyle.

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MUJI’s expansion in China

Established in 1980, MUJI did not enter the China market until 2005. Within a span of eight years from 2005 to 2013, 100 MUJI stores were opened in this market with large growth potential. And in the next three years, the number doubled to 200 stores.

Since 2012, MUJI has been expanding its network by opening 30 to 40 new stores each year in China, and the target for 2017 is to open another 50 stores. Yet the target is not groundless. “One of our key strategies in overseas business is to make each outlet run and stay in the black,” MUJI president Satoru Matsuzaki told Tokyo Business Today.

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According to its Annual Report 2016, the company opened the MUJI Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li flagship store in Chengdu in 2014, followed by the Shanghai Huaihai 755 flagship store that was opened in late 2015. Another one is expected to be established in Beijing before long.

Additionally, other than opening more stores in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, MUJI will further expand its business in second and third-tier cities where the population of mid-range consumers has been growing fast.

Data from March to May of 2016 show that MUJI’s sales revenue in East Asia accounts to 25.1% of the total. Sales in China, MUJI’s biggest overseas market, contributed to the majority of the revenue.

Flagship stores: from “goods” to “lifestyle goods”

How flagship stores differ from common MUJI stores is that the former are more than stores that sell goods–from the flagship store furnishing to the product settings, everything is meant to carry the message of a certain lifestyle.

3 IfanrFor example, other than the sale of various MUJI items, the Shanghai flagship also has its own Japanese restaurant, furniture displays, as well as a reading room with free WIFI. Buying products is no longer the only reason for visiting MUJI.

4 flamingoThe MUJI items available in China has also varied over the years. While sundries and stationery were the mainstream MUJI products when it first entered China, the catalog has been constantly enriched with items such as apparel, furniture, and food.

In addition to the flagship stores that offer products of simplicity for daily use, MUJI has opened bookstores, restaurants, and bakeries in China. Furthermore, Nikkei Asian Review reported that a MUJI-themed hotel furnished with MUJI products is to open in China in 2017.

5 flamingoAccording to Ifanr, the hotel will be built at Beijing Fun, an area near the Tiananmen Square for people to experience traditional Chinese lifestyle. The location may be accorded with MUJI’s efforts in integrating with Chinese traditional culture and communities.

Simplicity: the MUJI philosophy

MUJI, or Mujirushi Ryohin, literally refers to “unbranded goods of good quality”. Its trump card in winning over China’s growing middle class goes to the simple and functional designs of MUJI’s 5,000 items. This goes along with a concept proposed by MUJI’s first art director Ikko Tanaka, “To be confident in a simplicity that feels in no way inferior to splendor.”

6 IfanrAccording to Kenya Hara, member of MUJI’s advisory board,the designing of MUJI’s line of products stays away from trends that will soon become outdated; instead, MUJI works to offer products that are beyond trends, with the key words being “good quality”, “simplicity” and “low costs”.

Due to tariffs and logistics costs, MUJI products in China are still pricier than its equivalents in Japan. Therefore, though affordable to many, MUJI products may appear to be less appealing in front of the low prices offered by rising brands in China such as MINISO. MINISO was founded in late 2013 and developed 1,400 outlets worldwide within two years and a half.

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Ke graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master's Degree in English and has worked on projects with Ipsos MORI and SDI Media. She's particularly intrigued by China's thriving technology scene and is eager to write about this flourishing industry.