Tokyo is best expressed through the exceptional attention to detail, design, presentation and experience in everything that's crafted, made or cooked. This is mind numbing considering that Tokyo has 13 million inhabitants. That being said, these fascinating yet admirable cultural parities from Western society also make it an interesting case study from a retail experience perspective. Consider Beams, a Japanese boutique clothing retailer, with over 151 stores in Japan and Asia with 13 in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Tapei and most recently in Bangkok, Thailand. The stores are designed with a Japanese minimalist design touch, surrounded by open brick, dark woods and white open spaces. It's a very inviting, "homey" store, and as a customer you feel compelled to walk everywhere. It was started in 1976 (see CEOs note) and is managed by Yo Shitara. What makes this brand so unique is it's internal emphasis on brand authenticity. If you could sum up it's brand essence it would have to be Innovating Japanese lifestyle or arguably Empowering Japanese Lifestyle. But the key premise is the same, Beams strives to be part of the breakthrough culture and fashion retail business more so than anyone else. Surprisingly, Beams has made some interesting collaborations over the years with Western brands that are similar in stature (boutique retail fashion) - and it has only helped to reinforce what it sets out to do, not just domestically but internationally. But this brand identity is more than just the feel and style of the store, it its embedded right into the 1,300 employees.
The fashion department, known as the "Styling Advice Division" , is managed by two former buyers with years of experience in the fashion retail business. Their goal is to create trends that are unique, cool but also part of that Japanese traditional heritage (a sense of true Japanese authenticity), in a more younger, fresher perspective. To be one of the 1,300 employees at Beams, you are trained in a two week program in the subtleties of the presentation experience. How to properly wrap merchandise when purchased, and what bow to tie on top of the wrapped merchandise - even to the specifics of level of politeness of the bow (varying degrees, 15,30,45 - all signifying something different). The staff are required to wear two-of-three items from the Store (Legs, Torso and Feet - but suggested to wear all three items). But what the key ingredient here - is the styling that goes into the sales staff.
The sales staff not only wears Beams' clothes but they have the Beams' look. Regularly, hair stylists and makeup artists are brought in to help stylize sales staff more into their role. The premise is that if sales people look good, and represent what Beams' want to convey to the customer, the higher propensity the customer will buy (and buy more!). The style directors work closely with staff to create individual styles that allow customers to imagine themselves wearing it, and ultimately buy it. On top of this, there is a weekly competition of a "Good Styling Award" where each store competes through Flickr to be the best dressed sales associate (chosen by the two style directors). Sales staff not only compete for themselves but for the pride of their stores (yup, pride of their stores, only in Japan). This isn't all though, upon purchasing your gift the cashier will take your purchase, walk you to the door and hand you the bag while bowing. If it's raining they will double wrap your merchandise with water resistant material automatically.
What makes the Beams brand so successful, beside doing what they preach, creating authentic, excellent customer experiences - is that they stay flexible. This flexibility and imbedded "autonomy" with sales staff allow stores to be more adaptable to different customers, different locations and different expectations. This philosophy of the business, puts the customer at the center. Creating value, over and over is the core driver for success. By being at the forefront, there isn't any time to be risk averse, just calculated, nimble and spontaneous.
This approach is a unique one, similar to what we saw with Supreme in that the emphasis on the brand is creating that sense of authenticity and truth. That to be a certain way, or to have a vision of your future, you need to be actively involved in attaining it. Saying you want to be #1 in a specific category is one thing, going out and aligning your internal culture and external environment is completely another.