Muji's hotel move offers opportunities—and challenges

Following the leads of West Elm and Restoration Hardware, Japanese retailer Muji is moving into the hospitality sector. The company scheduled to introduce a hotel concept in its native Tokyo in the spring of 2019, as well as in Shenzhen, China by the end of 2017.

Located in Tokyo’s Ginza district, Muji’s retail-hotel hybrid will span 10 stories. It will have a 35,520 square-foot store—its largest ever—that will be housed across the building’s first six floors. The 79-room hotel will be located on floors seven through 10.

Meanwhile, the four-story Shenzhen hotel will be designed by Tokyo-based design practice Super Potato. Upon completion, the building will include a retail concept, restaurant and fitness center, in addition to 79 guestrooms that will have five varying configurations.

Guestrooms at both locations will be finished with recycled wood and will use Muji furniture and accessories.

Muji's Challenges (and Opportunities)

With a branded design aesthetic already in place, Muji’s expansion into hospitality may be relatively painless—but a hotel’s brand is more than just its guestrooms and lobby. “There are some challenges in store for Muji and other homewares stores in terms of how they can begin to design some of those experiences,” Dave Cameron, design director at San Francisco-based creative company Moving Brands, said. As a retail store, Muji is “really well-considered” and creates “really meaningful objects and materials,” Cameron said. “They have a challenge in designing the hotel space in its own right so that it feels sort of fresh and new and Muji and that it doesn't look and feel like a showroom.”

Muji’s design aesthetic reflects a “clear, minimalist style,” Cameron said, and wondered how the company’s products would look in a hotel setting. “What’s the finish of the walls? What are the materials of the building structure in its own right? I’m interested to see how they can how they begin to develop that and how that reflects their brand.”

In terms of target demographics, Cameron suggested that the Muji aesthetic will likely attract business travelers rather than leisure guests. “There's something really comfortable but clean and simple about their whole brand,” he said. “And that, as a living experience, will fit really well with people where they're going into busy days of work with busy schedules, so it might provide a little bit of calm.”

Beyond designing the hotel itself, he noted, Muji will need to design a guest experience that begins with a website and remains consistent through check-out—and that could require brand partnerships. “This is a new world for Muji in some sense,” he said. “What does that booking system look like? What does the front desk look like? What's the behavior of the staff in the Muji hotel? Is there elevator music? What's the food like? What are the partnerships there? How is that delivered?”

Ultimately, the venture will give the company  an opportunity to redesign some of those experiences through a distinctly Muji lens, whether that's through bookings, the check-in experience or the dining experience. “It will be interesting to see them begin to tackle this problem,” Cameron said. “And being the design presence that they are, they're going to craft these things with a lot of thought.”