Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Stores Co. Ltd operates and manages department stores in Japan. Wanting to become a chain of department stores that determines and sells items that are truly needed by and will become standard items for its customers, they established the ‘Mirai-teiban Kenkyu-jyo (Future Standard Laboratory).’ What kind of division is this within the company? And what exactly is a ‘Future Standard.’
We had the opportunity to interview Mr. Hidekazu Imatani, the Director of the ‘Future Standard Laboratory,’ about the challenges of finding ‘future standards’ and the marketing activities of the long-established department store.
Hidekazu Imatani’s profile
After working at NOMURA Co., Ltd. and ITOCHU Corporation, Imatani joined Dentsu Inc. in 1990. Using his qualifications and experience in architecture, he worked on space design for showrooms and events. He also worked on the development of online advertisements in the very early days of the internet. He joined Daimaru Matsuzakaya in 2015 and established the `Future Standard Laboratory.’ In 2018, the office was moved to Yanaka, Tokyo.
(The interview was conducted by Mizuki Nogita, Marketing Director, Bigbeat Inc.)
‘Future Standard Laboratory,’ the division that creates the future
Q: First of all, please tell us how the ‘Future Standard Laboratory’ was established in Daimaru Matsuzakaya.
Imatani: When I joined the company in 2015, the company did not have a marketing department nor an advertising department. I was hired in the Corporate Planning Office, but since I had worked in marketing for companies until then, I proposed that marketing unit would be necessary for our success.
Q: Wait, so there was no marketing department? That is really surprising.
Imatani: Although there were of course business strategies and numerical data, there was no department that was strategizing about the direction the company was going in. And that is why we established the ‘Future Standard Laboratory.’ We do very similar things that would take place in a marketing department, but we do not really chase numbers. We will be creating new standards in the future.
(The office of Future Standard Laboratory looks like something out of a time slip)
Q: How do you define what the ‘standard’ means in the name?
Imatani: I think that the word ‘standard’ is causing some misunderstandings about our institution.
Standard does not equal mass, as in there are a lot of the item. It refers to items that have survived the test of time. For example, polo shirts. When polo shirts first came out, they were revolutionary but now they are just normal standard items. There have been revolutionary and inventive thing that have come and gone. Those things did not become a ‘standard.’
Q: One of the key phrases you use at the Future Standard Laboratory is ‘Items that will be standard in 5 years.’ But how do you find these future standard items?
Imatani: We have positioned our division as one that ‘creates’ the future not ‘predict’ it. Our job is to create the next standards without missing their small values. For example, at first Halloween was a cultural thing that a few people enjoyed. But then it became a nationally celebrated holiday in Japan. If we had been paying attention to Halloween early on, it might have been a big business opportunity. We could have been one of the early department stores that sold Halloween goods.
It is really important to not miss any small signs and focus on the value of something. In the modern era there are business opportunities sprouting everywhere. And we need to be sure to pay attention and not get distracted by the thought that ‘this has nothing to do with a department store.’ By keeping that in mind, I think that we will be able to create the standard of things 5 years from now.
Conventional marketing theory alone is not enough
Q: I feel this is probably different from standard marketing theory.
Imatani: One time I was invited to a university class as a guest speaker, but I ended up disagreeing with the marketing theory they taught. (laughs) I do not want to say that you should not market something using the current values it can provide. I want to market using 90% conventional methods and 10% based on interests. In addition, current values and work styles have been closing the gap in age and gender differences.
Q: You might be right that labeling things by work, life and age may not be as effective anymore.
Imatani: For example, there are TV commercials that show things like ‘seniors cannot use smart phones,’ but the reality is different. On the contrary, there are young people who cannot use smartphones.
Q: Talking about 'interests', when you search for something you find interesting on the internet, you start getting ads for related products displayed shown to you all the time. Is this not a case of marketing based on interests?
Imatani: I think that internet ads have reached their limit. Anywhere you go on the internet has advertisements. And I think this is the result of people constantly chasing numbers. Right now, I think people have become more comfortable with mass advertisements as a consequence.
Q: If you can advertise something in a proper way, it would not leave a negative impression though, right?
Imatani: Even in a department store, when the customer walks in, a staff member will turn to them and say ‘welcome.’ I think this can leave a negative impression. It makes people feel like they are being chased.
One of our business suit stores do not have any final products available to buy in the store. The store only has fabric and an assisting person to take measurements of the customers. There is no one who is going to try and guide them to purchasing a business suit on the spot. Customers take their measurements home, and then they can order a business suit online. And this is the only way they can buy a business suit.
I heard that after they adopted this business model, they have been able to sell more business suits. Once someone gets themselves measured, they do not need to go to the business suit store anymore. They can enjoy the experience of getting measured and do not even need to purchase a business suit. And that sense of distance feels good to the customers.
What is the role of a department store in the modern era?
Q: Two notable examples of the work of the Future Standard Laboratory are the ‘300-year Closet’ and the ‘Shita-machi Front.’
Imatani: Daimaru had its 300-year anniversary in 2017. We did not just want to have a sale to celebrate our 300 years. First, it an amazing feat that we were able to make it to 300 years and we did not want to take that celebration lightly. We wanted to do something that would share our excitement for the next 300 years, so we planned our 300-year Closet.
And 2018 was the 250th anniversary of our Matsuzakaya Ueno store. Originally, Matsuzakaya was a fabric store called Ito-ya in Nagoya, Japan. Then the company purchased Matsuzakaya in Ueno and moved to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Our theme of celebration was ‘Edo no Iki.’ (Edo spirits). When the Ueno Frontier Tower opened in Ueno Okachi-machi, we created a new ‘town’ called the ‘Shita-machi Front’ opened to commemorate our 250th anniversary there.
Q: It is a project that was possible because you have the history.
Imatani: The "300-year Closet" is a project that was vital to the president and shows the will to survive for the next 300 years.
Q: Department stores cannot survive just collecting and selling items, and that is the brand story you wanted to tell with the ‘300-year Closet’ and ‘Shita-machi Front.’
Imatani: Top selling merchandise will continue to sell. But the bubble era where you could just sell a merchandise because it was in your store is over. Now people have most of the things they need, so you won’t sell items by just lining them up on shelves. You need a ‘story.’ Consumers will not buy a merchandise unless they see the story behind it. Merchandise and department stores need to be ‘selected.’
Q: People can now buy anything online without ever going to the store. So, does that mean there has to be a ‘value’ that is provided by going to a store?
Imatani: When someone ‘needs to buy something’ they first go to the internet. And department stores are not considered as an option. But if a customer were to find out the item they need is on the 6th floor of Daimaru, they might go there on their way home from work for example. But we have not been able to successful to present that option in their search.
Even if a store sets out to have 100 options available at their store, there are still an overwhelming amount of more options available online. Its why customers do not come to stores looking for something ’concrete’ anymore. For example, if someone goes to a department store because they are cold or some other vague reason. And they look at the different jackets until they find one that sticks out to them. They think this is good, and they buy it.
Q: The store does not have a specific purpose, but it is still a place to buy something.
Imatani: The department store’s role is to help the customers make new discoveries through recommendations by the store clerks. There are lots of things a department store can provide that customers cannot get through online shopping, but I feel that online shopping has blocked the department store.
Q: When you think about their history, department stores have been places that propose new things.
Imatani: Japan used to be a Kimono culture, but it was department stores that brought over western clothing. And to where western clothes you need shoes and a bag. And to eat western food you need a fork and knife. It was department stores that allowed Japanese people to experience and purchase western food and products.
Q: But now people have all that they need in their homes. They only go to the store to refill and replace things.
Imatani: You can still experience new things at department stores. For example, if you are interested in Scandinavian design from the perspective of sustainability and you can connect it and experience it, you will go to a place that you can buy it at.
The internet is convenient, cheap, and has an abundance of options. You cannot beat it there. I think from here on department stores will provide wealthy customers with added value. That is how department stores originally worked. So, it is more about returning to our roots.
On the other hand, there are also department stores that generate revenue by renting space out to stores. But I feel that we have not reached the point of proposing value and experience. That is why the Future Standard Laboratory is under the direct control of the company president. We are proposing new value and trying to change the company. From now I want to continue taking a thorough approach to things not because it is convenient, but because the value of ‘liking something’ is important.