Men's suits have always represented an important domestic market in Japan, probably because they are status symbols for successful men.

In the 1990s chains like Aoyama and Aoki International, known as "Suburban Type Men's chains", found success with a network of nationwide stores. This success was attributed mainly to the low price merchandise offered by these chains.

For the last few years, Japan has experienced a prolonged slump in the sales of men's suits. Major menswear retail chains in Japan are now looking at expanding and adjusting the concept of shops selling 'less expensive suits'. They are aiming at a new style of outlet focusing on young consumers. One of the strategies is to open new outlets in the downtown areas of large cities, selling simple suits at significantly lower prices.

The companies' aim is to attract young Japanese consumers that are now looking for a new, dressier wardrobe rather than casualwear. The target customer is aged 25 - 35 and usually buys suits in the Yen 30,000-50,000 price range in department stores.

Aoki International plans to establish 50 "Suits Direct" shops by 2005 and expects the annual turnover to reach Yen 15bn ($138m). The first "Suits Direct" shop was opened recently in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

The standard "Suits Direct" shop has a sales floor space set at between 230 and 330 sq ms, will be manned by seven to eight sales clerks and will stock 1,200 young men's suits. There are just two ranges of suits sold at two prices, Yen 19,000 and 28,000 ($174 and $257).

Aoki International will also launch its "Suits Direct" website in Spring 2001.

Aoyama is due to open its first shop under the name "The Suits Company" in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, this month. "The Suits Company" is a brand owned by Moss Bros in the UK and Aoyama uses the brand tie up with Moss Bros.

This month also, Haruyama will open the first "Perfect Suits Factory" shop in Akasaka, Tokyo.

All three chains have a similar price range for these new suits: Yen 19,000 to 28,000 ($174 to $257).

By Marc de Laroche
Source : The Woolmark Company