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Overcoming Dichotomy and Evolving, Co-creating with Marui for the Future Generation

Locating its stores around the terminal stations of central Tokyo, Marui is transforming the industry by using its stores to offer experience value and engagement with its customers. We asked the CEO, Mr. Masahiro Aono, about the history and future of his company, as well as the philosophy of Marui.



Interviewers: SMO's Hisashi Aoyama and Ibun Hirahara


 


Hirahara: It would be amazing if we could hear about your past, as well as the future you’d like to create today. First, could we hear about your history?


Mr. Aono: Our company was founded in 1931. We first stared as a monthly installment store of furniture such as desks and lending money. Currently, our business model consists of retail, fintech, and future investments, but we have always been running our business with retail and financial services. The first-ever company to issue a credit card was Marui. We established a card business using a financial service called installments.


Hirai: Wow, you were really a pioneer of the industry!


Mr. Aono: In terms of social value, at the time, installment stores were a lot like pawn shops; away from the main street with stores hidden away. Because people were embarrassed that they didn’t have money, they’d hide away and buy things using installments. Right now department stores are targeting the upper class, but at the time we conducted our business with the mindset that we want to make necessary furniture affordable for those who are unable to afford them using installments. .


Hirai: Marui’s presence was helping those in need. May I ask why you decided to work for Marui?


Mr. Aono: I tend to get bored of things easily, so instead of doing one thing for a extended period of time, I knew that I wanted to experience different types of jobs. At the time I was job hunting, Marui was conducting both financial business as well as retail, and in retail, there’s sales and stocking. I thought that Marui would enable me to do many different types of jobs.


Hirahara: What kind of work were you involved in initially?


Mr. Aono: Sales. I remember my first sales was a wallet for men. When you’re standing at the storefront for the first time, you have absolutely no knowledge, and you don’t even know how to work the register machine, so you get very nervous. When the customers arrived, though, I acted as if I was a pro, talking about the wallet, like, “As you continue using this the color starts turning to caramel!” After dealing with the customer for around ten minutes and thanking him for coming, he turned to me and smiled as he thanked me for my service, and left the store. That was a shocking experience for me, and it made me really happy. I was excited, not just because it was my first time selling something, but because I was appreciated for selling something. I thought that this job was wonderful, and that I wanted to continue this job forever. I think that was the starting point of where I am now.


Hirahara: I am sure that you are still interacting with many consumers, but from your perspective, what is customer service?


Mr. Aono: I think that the important factor of customer service is not limited to just selling a product. Something common amongst all excellent shopkeepers is the skill to listen, and not to sell. Catching consumer interests and needs after hearing out the reason why the customer arrived at the store is the kind of support customer service is.


Hirahara: Rather than it being a one-way interaction, it’s more of a conversation. There are many brands under Marui, but from your perspective, what makes a brand a “good” brand?


Mr. Aono: That’s a difficult question. I think the definition of a “good” brand changes over time, and it has significantly changed due to the recent pandemic.


I think that there used to be a time when we measured whether a brand was good or bad based on economic values such as popularity, number of sales, or profit. But now as the value of consumers changed, I think that whether the brand is contributing to society is becoming more important.


Hirahara: Do you have any recent examples?


Mr. Aono: I think that brands that values what’s behind the product, not just the surface level worth of it, would grab the customer’s heart and attention. The realization of “Wow, they put a lot of thought into that” would lead to the satisfaction of buying.


Hirahara: I think that many companies are focusing on solving social issues through business, not just as a contribution to society. Do you ever focus on that?


Mr. Aono: We’ve maintained our business for 90 years. This continuity is something important to us. Contributing to our community, to our customers through our business. I think in that way there are 2 meanings of social values: One, to not harm the earth, and two, to include the emotions of happiness and interests of each customer. By doing that, businesses would become much more sustainable.


Hirahara: I truly believe that too. When it comes to solving social issues, we tend to think of donations, but when I went to the pop up store of Tony’s Chocolonely* at Yurakucho Marui, although the cost of each product was a bit expensive for chocolate, thinking that it would be fun to take part in helping our planet, made me understand the power of change through consumption. (*A Dutch fair trade confectionery company. Their products are created without the use of forced labor, which helps farmers get out of poverty.)


Could I also ask what you believe the term “real” means?


Mr. Aono: Usually, I think that question would lead to deep, philosophical topics, but I believe that it means a simple smile. Just like the man I talked about earlier, to be relied on by others as well as your community is what a smile signifies.Under a smile I sense the future, as well as the feeling of being saved. Continuously making people smile is important in a business, and I really think that it wouldn’t work if you don’t start your thinking with smiles. Just like the Tony’s Chocolonely story you told me earlier, if you don’t make the approach entertaining, people wouldn’t be interested.


Hirahara: It’s like, “Oh, that looks fun, wait, it’s actually contributing to society!?”


Mr. Aono: It’s important to continue thinking about what makes people feel they are having fun and make it so that they want to buy it.


Hirahara: Today’s theme is “The road to a Purpose-driven company,” but has Marui established a Purpose?


Mr. Aono: Although we don’t necessarily use the exact term “Purpose,” we have “Mission, Vision, Philosophy” and “Core Value”; everything we believe is important ever since the company was founded.


After reading Mrs. Saito’s book and seeing what would be appropriate for the terms she came up with, but I think that “Co-creation of trust” is the most close to Purpose. This was established after reflecting on what we have done since the company was founded and asking ourselves what our Purpose is.


Aoyama: I think that the words “Overcoming dichotomy” under the Vision section is really a word closely associated with Marui.


Mr. Aono: I really like the Vision “Overcoming dichotomy.” Usually, a company’s Vision is something nobody will deny, something vague. But our Vision is very rough, like, “Wow, did they really have to say it like that?” When we were establishing our Vision, we came up with ideas such as Three Sustainability, something very common, but we all thought it’s not right. After a long discussion, we established “Overcoming dichotomy.” For the board members, it was something we all related to. Overcoming dichotomy through business is something that is very difficult. It’s tough to solve social issues, satisfy our consumers, while profiting our shareholders. Because we actually try to accomplish all those things through our work, I think the words reflected how we feel about the challenge.





Aoyama: Our world is full of contradictions and oppositions. Trying to overcome it, especially through business, is a philosophy I felt very moved by. Is there a part you especially want your employees to understand?


Mr. Aono: When you’re trying to involve someone, or change something using Mission, Vision, and Philosophy, it’s hard to reach out to the other person if you can’t explain it in your own words. Although my employees understand it to the point they can memorize it, that’s not enough to move someone’s heart. You have to make it your own, embody it, tell it to someone, change your actions as well as your team’s with the terms. I think that’s when you finally understand the company’s philosophy. It holds no value if it’s being displayed like an artwork.


Hirahara: Do you try to focus on that when you are having a conversation with your employees?


Mr. Aono: I do. For example, for any type of work, if you don’t share what you’re going to be doing to accomplish your goal for that term, the accomplishment would be weak. If you understand your goal, like, protecting the human rights of children across the world through our profits, or using ways to emit less gas to create a business model that would leave as little impact on the Earth as possible, then you are more likely to be passionate in what you do. And even if your products don’t sell as much as you’d want it to, you’d get more creative in ways you’d advertise to the consumers. You are more incentivised, more motivated. But that can only be done if your goals and values are shared. If you focus on the aftermath, like improving your reputation or your salary, it would be difficult to achieve.


Hirahara: So it is about the change when telling the employees how their work today will change the future.


Lastly, you mentioned how the “real” thing you want to leave for the future is a smile. What is something that you want to work on for Marui to create more smiles?


Mr. Aono: Right now we are working under three themes. First is to create with the future generation. How we are going to create a business that would not harm our Earth. For Marui, whose business is not as large as others, we want to create a distinct originality. We want to offer an option where overproduction and overconsumption is not in the equation. Through consumption, we want to offer a solution to social issues. Even if we are unable to embody it 100%, accomplishing 50% would make a difference.


Second is to cheer on the interests of individuals. We want to be beside those wanting to be more like themselves. For example, in sales, we want to offer fun events where fans would get together, like, K-Pop fans next to Kabuki, to expand their interests. We want our stores to be a place of new findings.


Another is co-creation. We want to change the community not just within Marui, but with SMO and other companies. And when making that change, if companies could consider using the resources of Marui, I would be grateful.


Hirahara: We, SMO, would also love to co-create with you. Thank you for your valuable time.

 

青野真博


株式会社丸井代表取締役社長兼

株式会社丸井グループ 上席執行役員

84年丸井(現丸井グループ)入社。

レディス事業部長を経て、

11年丸井 取締役、19年丸井專務兼

丸井グループ上席執行役員。

20年7月より現任。

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