Outdoor Turns Lifestyle

Japan is becoming an important market for global outdoor brands, who are increasingly focusing not just on outdoor sports enthusiasts but urban consumers.

In November 2015, Snow Peak opened a stand-alone store on Omotesando, one of Tokyo’s prime areas for high-end fashion. Based on the Home=Tent concept, the brand aims to advocate a simple, natural lifestyle.

Hunter is preparing the opening of flagship store in Ginza for spring 2016. Two new categories called Hunter Original and Hunter Fields will be launched at the same time. Hunter Fields is focused on functional items built for performance, while Hunter Original re-launches items from the brand’s rich history.

Both companies seem to follow the playbook of luxury fashion brands such as Armani and Bulgari, which have turned their Tokyo flagship stores into lifestyle hubs that offer a broad range of products beyond clothing as well as cafes, restaurants and spas. Maybe the next chapter in the history of innovative retail in Tokyo will be written by outdoor brands.

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A Cupful of Connoisseurship

IMG_4624Japanese consumers have always been famous for the zeal with which they greet new store launches – and the last few months have been no exceptions.

In February, Tokyo saw the opening of premium coffee roaster Blue Bottle’s first Japan store. Despite the location in Kiyosumi (a largely residential neighborhood at least 30 minutes away from Tokyo’s central areas), queues of up to 4 hours formed on the first days, and Japanese social media were awash with photos of expertly poured drip coffee.

In comparison, the market entry of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in late May appears to have been less successful, at least when using the all-important metric of waiting times on opening day (1.5 hours). Novelty alone is clearly not enough to convince Japanese consumers to have another cup.

Before the launch and rapid expansion of Starbucks in Japan in the early 2000s, consumer knowledge about coffee was low and consumption outside the home limited to cramped and smoke-filled cafes (kissaten).

After more than 15 years of efforts by Starbucks et al., the picture could not be more different, and Japan now has an increasing number of coffee connoisseurs sophisticated enough to seek out the superior quality and unique brand stories offered by premium niche brands such as Blue Bottle.

Interestingly, Blue Bottle’s main offering is drip coffee – the very format which before the launch of Starbucks in 1996 was the mainstay of Japanese coffee culture in the above noted kissaten (and often came along with spartan side orders such as toast or boiled eggs).

Japanese consumers have clearly come a long way since, and it will be interesting to see what comes next – the market might be ready for a modern version of Japan’s kissaten that updates Japan’s coffee tradition for the 21st century.

At the same time, it is important to note that this trend at least for now mostly applies to Tokyo. Smaller cities and rural areas in Japan have considerable catching-up left, as can be seen from the first opening of Starbucks in remote Tottori prefecture that drew a line of more than 1,000 people on opening day.