Ms. Nanoka Matsumoto Sakata, Kurashi Labo Sakata
From June this year, mobile sales by lightweight truck has started based at the Kurashi Labo Sakata in Sakata City, Yamagata Prefecture. Together with delivering basic lifestyle items such as food, toning water, stationery and cooking utensils to hilly and mountainous areas where the birthrate is declining and the population is aging, we are also listening to the daily problems of local residents and considering solutions to these local issues. This month, we talked with Ms. Matsumoto, who raised her hand to move to Sakata City in the internal recruitment program, and is conducting mobile sales by herself in the local area now.
■It all begins with “Lifestyle Organizing School”
The Sakata Project was launched as the fruit of an internal training program conducted in Sakata City in the summer of 2019 called “Lifestyle Organizing School” (hereinafter “Organizing School”). The project was commissioned by Sakata City to revitalize the hilly and mountainous areas in the city. A total of 17 employees recruited through the internal recruitment process, including myself, visited Sakata City and worked with local residents and local government officials. We came up with ideas to improve life in the area and presented our business proposals to the city’s mayor.
I was originally interested in migrating to rural areas and islands, so I joined the Organizing School with great excitement. The Nikko area that my team visited is a hilly and mountainous area, where the birthrate is declining and the population is aging. The economy in this area is not circulating despite the existence of natural resources. However, I was also impressed by the warmth and gentleness of people living there and the deliciousness of the local food. During the short period of the training program, I got to like this region very much, and my desire to let more people learn about the attractiveness of the region became stronger and stronger. Together with my group members, I seriously considered how we could truly serve the local community. We came up with the idea of a “life tourism” business that combines the attractiveness of people and lifestyles with economic activities, and proposed mobile sales as one of the contents of this business. This was a major opportunity for me to engage in my current work.
■Necessity of “Mobile Sales”
Currently, conducting mobile sales is my major job. At the time when we proposed mobile sales in the “Lifestyle Organizing School”, we considered it no more than a means of earning revenue for activities that would be useful to the community. However, when I studied Sakata City again actually migrating to this area, I realized that “support for shopping” is in fact needed by many people. So I worked really hard to think about how to make mobile sales more useful to the community and how to make the residents feel happy.
Not long after I moved to the area, the community center, which served as the base for community interaction, was closed due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the scheduled hearing sessions with local residents or the presentation of MUJI products had to be canceled or postponed. What is worse, I often felt that it was difficult for myself to accomplish what I wanted to do. However, I was able to make progress step by step thanks to the help of local residents and those from related departments in the company.
We started mobile sales in June, and I feel that it is gradually becoming the “fun of life” for the local community. Many people who live in the same village but barely have chances to meet would communicate happily with each other when the encounter at our mobile sales spot, and I am delighted to be able to help with not only shopping but also creating opportunities for communication.
On the other hand, there are still many people who don't know about MUJI, or who can’t come to the spot of our mobile sales since they are living too far away. With the help of city officials and local residents' associations, we hope to gradually expand the scope of our activities so that more people can enjoy shopping with us. I have also received feedback from customers saying, “Although there are plenty of products, I don’t really need them.” Beginning in October, we plan to revise our product lineup to make those lifestyle basics easier to understand while retaining the fun of choosing by oneself. We hope to listen to the opinions of customers and help solve the problems in the local community.
■Localization to Connect People
After I moved to the area, I felt that my relationship with the others is “people living in the same area” rather than “customers and staff.” I am very happy to hear people say that they want to buy things from me. I considered this an important point for localization – just like the old times when people buy things from those they know, such as greengrocer and fish shops in the same shopping district, and they would talk, communicate and make the purchase happily. In my mind, an ideal store is one that could connect people. I hope that if a MUJI store opens someday in Sakata City, people visit the store will talk with each other and communicate freely.
In the future, I want to increase the number of colleagues from a wide range of age groups who can work with the same aspirations, not only within the company but also among local players. Now we are gradually starting new initiatives. I would like to carry out activities that will enable the local community and MUJI to move forward together while valuing the local community and its people.