By Nan Nan Liu
Northwest Asian Weekly
Daiso. It’s a store where you can find just about anything, and most of it costs only $1.50.
Since its Alderwood Mall location opened in 2005, deal-shoppers have poured into this quirky, one-of-a-kind store to get the cheapest Japanese merchandise that is impossible to find elsewhere.
With the popularity of Daiso’s Alderwood store, six more stores have opened in the Seattle area, including locations in Westlake downtown, South Center, and Federal Way.
Standing outside Daiso at the bustling Westlake Shopping Center, you could hear the excitement customers expressed when they first entered the store.
“I want this cane!” exclaimed an energetic, wide-eyed teenage girl, while an older, silver-haired lady turned to her husband and demanded, “Let’s go to this store. Things are very cheap.”
Yes, things are very affordable at Daiso, and that is just one of the store’s many appealing attributes.
It also caters to all demographics and sells only authentic Japanese merchandise. Perhaps this is how Daiso expanded so quickly in the past six years. And it refuses to slow down.
A little pocket of Japan
If you need a pencil case, you can get it at a number of places. However, you may not find one as unique as the one you’d find in Daiso, with its Japanese packaging, graphics, and design.
From stationary to bath to gifts, everything in Daiso comes from Japan.
“The main attractive [point] of Daiso is that it’s very authentic,” said Westlake Daiso Store Leader Julia Redmond, who studied in Japan, is fluent in Japanese, and, upon her return to the United States, found Daiso a comforting reminder of her time in that country.
“If you go to other stores in Seattle, they have someone who will pick out what’s popular for America. But our store has exactly what’s authentic in Japan. There is no one in the middle. We have a lot more variety. The packages you find here are the packages you find in Japanese Daiso. So, in a lot of ways, you feel as if you are in Japan,” said Redmond.
“We have brought the experience of shopping at a store in Japan to the United States. Besides some slight differences, if you went to a store in Japan and then went to a store in the United States, you would feel like you’re in Japan again once you walk in our store,” said assistant manager Ryan McBride. “Other companies from overseas tend to adapt to fit the American markets. Of course we have made some adaptations, but essentially, the experience in a Japanese Daiso and a U.S. Daiso store is the same.”
Redmond’s customers at Westlake certainly appreciate that nostalgic feeling of being in a foreign country.
“Most [customers] just say how excited they are because many of them have been to Japan and they feel like they are back in Japan,” said Redmond.
How to make a profit by charging $1.50
Since its debut in the 1970s, Daiso has grown to dominate the Japanese household goods economy by charging a low price. Now, like Wal-Mart in the Midwest and Starbucks in Seattle, there is a Daiso on just about every street corner in Japan.
In the United States, most merchandise costs $1.50 because “considering the import prices and the price of the yen, the basic price exchange would be about a $1.50,” explained Redmond.
But how does Daiso make a profit by charging so little?
“We purchase very large quantities for everything produced for us, [and] quite a lot of stuff is especially made for Daiso,” said Redmond. “We find the best and cheapest producers. … We are able to make the choice for what manufactures can give us, the best quality for the best price.”
“We need to sell lots of items,” added McBride. “We have buyers in Japan who work hard to get large bulk orders, making quality items more affordable for Daiso and ultimately our customers.”
Yoshihide Murata, senior vice president of Daiso USA, concurred, “We have over 3,000 stores globally. Based on the number of stores, we have a great purchasing power. We are purchasing products in huge quantities, and it allows us to distribute for a cheaper price.”
Watch out, Sam!
Sam as in Sam Walton, of Wal-Mart.
Someday, Daiso aims to compete with U.S discount giants such as Wal-Mart and Target, and to do so with its unique business model.
“We feel like our business model is nothing compared to the U.S.” informed Murata. “We have three important issues: quality, variety, and uniqueness.”
“Our focus is on the customers’ needs. We try to have at least of one of every possible item our customers could need or want. In most cases, we have several similar items with different features and designs to increase the customers’ chances of finding what they are looking for. Convenience, quantity, and quality mixed with the fun of shopping in our store is what we strive for,” said McBride.
The $1.50 price tag, of course, doesn’t hurt business, either. Even Wal-Mart or Target can’t guarantee such low price points.
“We offer the price and the value. …Our retail price is $1.50. You can compare similar products, you cannot get $1.50 on quality and value,” said Murata.
And although he does not foresee Daiso taking over the U.S market anytime soon, Murata did say, “In the future, we like to establish Daiso store in the U.S market, including other states. … It may take some time to expand the Daiso store, but the U.S market is very important in the future for Daiso.”
Unless Wal-Mart and Target start selling face slim rollers for $1.50, looks like Daiso will take the U.S market with its quirky Japanese knick knacks. ♦
For more information, visit www.daiso-sangyo.co.jp/english.
Nan Nan Liu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.