Asari: Is this the future of retail?

Japanese retailer Asari is ready bring its unique shopping experience to new countries with a master-franchise model. Paul Strohm reports.

While circumstances are forcing retail towards the internet it is unusual to hear of a brand that is so adamant that a physical presence is necessary that it would cap its online activities with that in mind and to support the malls that have helped it through the recent crisis. Japanese brand Asari has taken that stance and is heading for Europe with its unusual blend of F&B and own-label products.

Asari was only founded in 2016 and initially made its name producing graphic T-shirts. But the brand rapidly grew into a lifestyle retail concept whose range includes home appliances, electronics, cosmetics, gifts, stationery, sports and streetwear. The brand’s hallmark is simple: basic and necessary products that are stylish and have unique touches.

The concept has been further developed over the last few months and now combines Asari stores featuring Japanese lifestyle products, fashion, beauty, stationery, kitchenware, homeware, alongside a coffee shop selling pastries, healthy food and juices and book stores where Manga books feature prominently among the titles on display. Recently introduced new features include a “gourmet wall” with products from Japan, and in some countries the Mediterranean. Asari outlets also include a printer to encourage people to work or study while they are there.

Asari stores sell a variety of lifestyle products, including homewares and candles, while book shops and cafes (top) offer something different

Another innovation used in some markets to encourage loyalty is the option of membership to Genki Me – translated as “healthy me” – which provides access to a nutritionist who can guide customers on what is needed to achieve better health, lose or gain weight, and Asari shops will fulfil the prescription.

Asari is now growing internationally, but has veered away from the direct franchise model of expansion in favour of joint venture partnerships with local investors or partners. Asari invests between 30% and 50% of the capital, minimising the partner’s risk, and the joint ventures then act as ‘master’ franchises that can open stores or create sub-franchises.

“We just closed a joint venture with a UAE company that owns the rights for the MENA market and we are seeking new partners in Europe and the USA,” says Asari business development associate Abe Ikuro.

Retail partners

Ikuro explains that the company is looking for retail partners interested in a store-within-a-store concept where Asari invests 50%.

“The partnership between us and the retailer is a mutually beneficial one that helps both parties increase revenue and grow their market,” he explains. “Shoppers enjoy the store-within-a-store model because it maximises convenience, encourages variety, and creates a new shopping experience.”

Asari recently closed two such contracts in Hong Kong with Taiwanese bookstore chain Eslite and is in negotiation with potential partners in China, Indonesia, Sweden and Germany.

Asari has also created a wholesale channel to enable multi-brand retailers to buy its products to sell at stores or on their own online channel.

But for markets in countries which are returning to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic Asari has, unusually, stopped selling online because it wants customers to visit its stores. The company says it wants to help its mall partners that have supported Asari through the recent tough times.