Send Out The Trucks

Muji’s food truck for general supplies proves that selling in person to another person is still a good thing

If your customers can’t come to you, you go to them. In the era of fervent e-commerce, that sounds terribly old-fashioned. Yet, that is precisely what Muji is doing in Japan. Charmingly. In the mountains of Sakata City, they have sent out steel and motor—“light trucks”, filled with daily necessities that include food, cooking supplies, stationery, home wear, and even skin care items, to sell to those elderly folks who are unable to travel to a Muji store. All in a neat little white truck. This Muji-on-wheels is kin to Muji to Go, a similar mobile retail concept initiated in August. It targets customers who can’t conveniently go to a Muji store located in the city, in particular the elderly.

Sakata City is a port city in the prefecture of Yamagata—on the island of Honshu—that is known for its mountains, and like most mountainous regions of the country, hot springs too. But Japan’s population is ageing, and many old folks in Sakata City’s higher elevations are left behind when the younger inhabitants decamp for the big cities to seek a more economically-rewarding life. Muji is not only alert to the needs of these people in their own hometowns, but also aware that they require basics that are Muji-stylish.

As simple as the designs of their products are, stylishness is part of the Muji DNA. Urban folks who dress their homes in Muji, approach it as if styling for an opportunity to appear in Kinfolk. Muji Hotel, opened just last year in the swanky neighbourhood of Ginza, is so minimally fetching and palpably chic that the Wall Street Journal called it one of “the coolest new hotels” in Tokyo. We can’t say that for the mountain folks of Sakata City, a few Muji utensils is enough to turn their kitchens into exemplars of effortless chic, but it could be a subtle shift to living among stuff that can be things of beauty and usefulness.

Perhaps, more significantly, Muji shows that even selling in a truck up in the mountains can be done stylishly. There appears to be even visual merchandising in the compact vehicle. Nothing is spilling from the receptacles that hold them. Everything is neatly displayed in their respective spaces. There are even dangling merchandise to complete the neighbourhood-store vibe. Never was there a miss on the Muji aesthetic. Maybe the authorities here should allow (more) mobile retail ventures, and more creative retailing, as a result, could emerge. Fairprice’s Finest on Wheels, learn.

Photo: Muji