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Takashimaya's Bangkok store looks to Singapore sister shop for success

New location offers Thai shoppers a taste of Japan with local flavor

Shoppers await the grand opening of the Siam Takashimaya department store in Bangkok on Nov. 10. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

BANGKOK -- Takashimaya, Japan's iconic department store, is trying the same formula for success used at its Singapore branch for its recently opened location in Bangkok.

The ingredients -- a rich lineup of Japanese food, powerful partners and localized operations -- were evident on Nov. 10 when the iconic brand first opened its doors to the public in the city's new Iconsiam megamall.

Takashimaya President Shigeru Kimoto and kimono-clad Thai staff bowed to welcome the more than 1,000 people who had queued for the grand opening. Near the entrance, Shinano Gold apples, premium melons, carefully selected persimmons and other luxury fruits were laid out for customers to sample.

The store's steep prices -- a pack of Shinano apples cost 200 baht ($6) -- reflect Takashimaya's focus on wealthier Thais, along with those who have visited Japan and are looking for an authentic Japanese experience.

Thirty percent of the 530 or so brands at Siam Takashimaya originate in Japan.

The new Takashimaya department store is an anchor tenant of megamall Iconsiam. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

Among the top draws is Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza, a shop specializing in items from Japan's main northern island, a favorite destination for Thai tourists. Dosanko's approximately 500 items, including snacks and dairy products, cost about three times more than in Japan.

A 39-year-old Thai customer carrying a few boxes of pricey potato chips from Japanese snack maker Calbee said, "We've been to Takashimaya in [Tokyo] and Osaka, and wanted to see if the branch here was the same. We do kind of feel like we are in Japan."

"We got off to a good start," Kimoto said.

Iconsiam is a sprawling 525,000-sq.-meter complex developed by Siam Piwat and Charoen Pokphand Group. According to observers, Takashimaya received incentives to locate at Iconsiam as an anchor tenant.

The store is run according to local business practices -- the same approach Takashimaya took with its Singapore location.

Staff uniforms also reflect local tastes. In Japan, employees wear a somber gray outfit that Thai company executives deemed too drab. To brighten things up, a Thai designer was commissioned to create a more appealing red, black and white ensemble.

The switch to the new uniforms was aimed at "keeping talented workers for a long time," said Siam Takashimaya President Kenji Horiguchi.

Still, the branch retains its Japanese character, and brought in an official from the Yokohama store to train employees on bowing, wrapping and other Japanese shop practices.

Unlike other Japanese department stores, Takashimaya was a latecomer to Singapore and faced an uphill battle: During its first 10 years in the city-sate, the store posted yearly losses. It wasn't until it teamed with powerful players in the sector and revamped its events and food offerings that the location began to turn a profit. Its basement food floor has been particularly well-received.

A Siam Takashimaya employee wearing a newly styled uniform, right, assists a customer. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

According to Takashimaya Singapore Managing Director Tatsuo Yano, if the company had "maintained the same targets as other [store operators], we could not have successfully competed."

The Singapore store, which has been operating for 25 years, accounts for around 20% of the group's operating profit, at 6.1 billion yen ($54 million).

Siam Takashimaya expects to turn its first profit in the year ending February 2020.

Nikkei staff writers Yuki Hanai in Tokyo and Tomoya Onishi in Hanoi contributed to this report.

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