Large Japanese retailers gain ground in Vancouver

Muji readies to open second B.C. store; Miniso and Uniqlo also expanding in the province
Japanese household products store Muji is planning to open its Robson Street location on December 2 | Chung Chow

2017 in Metro Vancouver has been marked by the entry and proliferation of large Japanese retailers in the market – a trend set to continue December 2, when the household and consumer goods purveyor Muji opens its second store in the region, on Robson Street.

Muji opened its first Metro Vancouver store at Metropolis at Metrotown August 25, and it’s rumoured the company will open a third store in a shopping centre south of the Fraser River next year – possibly at CF Richmond Centre, where Cadillac Fairview senior vice-president and portfolio manager Tom Knoepfel confirmed that the company has been in “discussions” about opening a store.

“They’re in big-expansion mode, and Canada is on their hit list,” retail analyst and DIG360 principal David Gray told Business in Vancouver.

“For a lot of those big guys, when locating in Canada, it’s Toronto or Vancouver first. Locations are often determined by where the leases come up, and whatever space they can find that is suitable.”

Muji first opened a Canadian store in Toronto in late 2014, and the chain has since opened three more stores in the Greater Toronto Area.

Other major Japanese retailers new to the Vancouver market include Miniso and Uniqlo.

While variety store Miniso’s headquarters is in Guangzhou, China, the company touts its Japanese roots, being co-founded by Japanese designer Junya Miyake. Many of its products are also designed to look Japanese.

Miniso opened its first Metro Vancouver store, at 1256 West Broadway, in April, followed by a location in the Tsawwassen Mills outlet mall soon afterward. By the end of August it had also opened locations at 550 Granville Street; on Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus; and near Richmond’s Brighouse station.

Miniso’s vice-president of development, Yi Ma, told BIV earlier this year that he expects Metro Vancouver to have more than 15 Miniso stores by next August.


(Image: Miniso vice-president of development, Yi Ma, told Business in Vancouver earlier this year that he plans to have more than 15 stores in Metro Vancouver by next August | Rob Kruyt)

That includes stores open by the end of the year at Park Royal Shopping Centre, Guildford Town Centre, Sevenoaks Shopping Centre, Coquitlam Centre and Lynn Valley Centre.

B.C. has been the focus of Miniso’s Canadian expansion, although the chain also has three stores in Ontario, according to its website.

“Where Vancouver plays above its size is the fact that we do have a global-stage profile,” Gray said. “There’s a certain critical mass here, and other global retailers are already here. You could call it the ego effect. Global brands pick Vancouver because their peers that they’re fighting with, and want to be compared with, are here. They don’t want to be noticeably absent.”

Indeed, Uniqlo CEO Tadashi Yanai told BIV earlier this year that he wanted his first Canadian store to be in Vancouver but he could not find appropriate real estate, so he opened first in Toronto.

Uniqlo is the third large Japanese retailer to open its doors in B.C. in the past year. It launched its first B.C. store at Metropolis at Metrotown in October before announcing that it would open a second B.C. store at Surrey’s Guildford Town Centre in spring 2018.

“Vancouver attracts a lot of Asian retailers because of its proximity to the Pacific Rim,” said Retail Insider Media owner and retail analyst Craig Patterson.

“Companies located on the Pacific Rim, because of the flight-time differential and because of brand awareness from people who are travelling, they’re going to look at Vancouver,” he said. 

Muji's opening on Robson Street will come a few weeks after the mid-November Cushman Wakefield study of retail streets around the world that found that Robson Street retail square footage had dropped in value, in US dollars, by more than 15%  compared with the same time last year. •

gkorstrom@biv.com 

@GlenKorstrom 

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