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  • Jennifer Marks

Coming to America

Aki-HomeAki-Home cross-merchandises in the furniture section and splits the store into soft and hard home zones elsewhere.
It's not Natori, as in designer Josie. It's Nitori, as in Akio Nitori, founder and ceo of Aki-Home stores, which could be characterized as the Ikea of Japan.
     Now Aki-Home has landed in the United States with two stores in Southern California, a third planned to open this spring, a fl edging ecommerce site that will become more fully articulated in the coming months, and big plans for the future.
     How big? Try 1,000 stores over the next two decades.
     Aki-Home chose to plant its flag in California because of the diversity, according to David Finch, manager of store operations and marketing. "If we get it right here, we can get it right across the country," he told H&TT.
     There's also a bit of sentiment involved. In 1972, five years after he opened a 1,000-squarefoot furniture store in Hokkaido, Nitori travelled to California to investigate how home retailing was done the American way. He was impressed by the balance of price, selection and quality. Returning home, he adapted what he saw to the local market - and launched a retail empire that now includes more than 300 stores in Japan and 16 in Taiwan.
     The first U.S. stores opened just before Thanksgiving in Fullerton (20,000 square feet) and Tustin (30,000 square feet). About 50% of the mix consists of furniture, with price points ranging from $199 for a couch to $1,500 for a sectional sofa. In the other 50% of the store, soft home accounts for 30% of the assortment, with decidedly accessible price points. (Duvet covers retail from $15 to $40.) Homewares, décor and storage balance out the rest.
David FinchDavid Finch rallied the troops as the first store prepared to grand open in November.

     Although there's heavy cross-merchandising in the furniture section, the remainder of the store is zoned for soft lines and hard lines, said Finch, whose background includes postings at Disney, Macy's and The Container Store.
     "Bath is big for us. We have a great reputation for accessory pillows and throws. We're really great in kitchen textiles," he said.
     The inaugural inventory draws from the hottest sellers in Japan. "Fortunately, [Asian design] is a real trend right now," said Finch. But the U.S. operation is very much in test mode. Buyers will be travelling to Heimtextil, High Point, Las Vegas and the Chicago housewares show in the coming weeks - and Aki-Home is open to doing domestic buys if the product will resonate with shoppers.
     "We're really listening to our customers," he added. "We're all about communications. We're really learning."

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