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United Arrows: A Unique Japanese Retail Philosophy

By
  • BoF Team

TOKYO, Japan — With over 160 stores in Japan, the publicly-listed United Arrows is a major force in menswear retail. But despite its hefty size, its approach is rooted in the distinctly human values of service, integrity and respect. Founded in 1989, the brand opened its first store in Tokyo's Shibuya-ka Jingumae district in 1990. Within two years, the brand began to identify itself with the phrase "our stores, for our customers." Today, however, United Arrows defines its philosophy as fulfilling "the standards of the Japanese lifestyle," expressed through its rigorous approach to service, product offering and societal impact.

BoF spoke to Hirofumi Kurino, creative director of United Arrows, to learn more. 

BoF: What makes United Arrows so successful? It seems the company’s philosophy is very much at the heart of its commercial activities.

HK: We think of ourselves as a retail store, not a fashion company. We are a retailer, so we serve our customers. This is always the most important thing for us. Maybe in our mind we are subconsciously inspired by Taoism, a very oriental, Japanese philosophy: to be honest and to follow the road to being a good merchant.

BoF: How does this approach manifest itself practically?

HK: The easiest way that we show it is the service in the shop. Our training for a sales person is really strict, really deep and it takes a very long time. Our training is very well respected; other fashion retailers and fashion media are interested in the way that we train our staff. There are already two books that speak about how we train our sales persons. In store, when we serve our customer, we think of ourselves as messengers who tell the stories of the products to our customers.

BoF: Tell me about your customers.

HK: Our customer tends to be in his early 30s to early 50s, and is a very quality conscious customer who wants high quality production, not a big name, so that even with an unknown producer, if it is very good quality, we can sell it. For example, Salvatore Piccolo, the Italian shirt maker — we are one of their oldest customers and one of their biggest customers because our customers trust us and because the quality is great, it sells.

BoF: Why do Japanese consumers value quality so much?

HK: Our country’s culture is very quality orientated and this culture never disappeared after the Second World War, or anything. Even though there have been big cultural changes, still we have kept this quality orientated life, both as customers and vendors.

BoF: In recent years, Japan, like other countries, has seen the rising influence of fast fashion retailers.

HK: In general, we have seen a lot of fast fashion or less expensive production, like H&M, Zara and Uniqlo — they are all rising. Our kind of customer is into this shop, so that they can take a balance of buying sometimes the less expensive things, but in our store they are choosing more quality things. Especially after 2008, the economic crisis changed the way customers shop. They are very careful about spending money, but still they are not closing their wallet. They still want to buy something — something that is worth their money.

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