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This week’s featured article

KAZUAKI NAGATA, THE JAPAN TIMES

Aiming to shake off its image as an expensive members-only store, furniture retailer Otsuka Kagu Ltd. on Friday unveiled its renovated flagship store in Tokyo’s upscale Ginza shopping district, offering a more welcoming atmosphere.

“What we cared about (in this revamp) was to make the store more customer-centric,” Otsuka Kagu President Kumiko Otsuka told reporters.

The Tokyo-based company ran a kind of membership-based business. Before, customers were asked to provide their names in order to be able to browse items on sale inside the stores and become members when they purchased something.

The stores would also have assistants guide them around the expansive floors.

Although the firm shifted away from the membership system several years ago, the impression that Otsuka Kagu stores are not geared for casual shopping still seems to be strong.

A symbolic move in the revamp is that the store drastically reduced the size of the reception desk. A large desk used to take up much of the space at the entrance, and Otsuka said it may have even intimidated customers by making them feel they had to go through some formal procedure before being allowed to step inside the store and browse.

Otsuka Kagu also said before it was redesigned, the first floor used to feature white walls and pillars. However, it added a wood grain-effect appearance to the pillars in a bid to project a more casual atmosphere.

Otsuka Kagu recently found itself in the spotlight as the company’s founder and former chairman, Katsuhisa Otsuka, Kumiko’s father, tried to take over the presidency through a proxy fight after the two differed on ways to resuscitate the firm.

The two faced off at the annual shareholders meeting in March and the daughter ended up winning the most votes.

Katsuhisa Otsuka criticized her for shifting the focus to lower-priced products and asserted the importance of targeting wealthy people and having interior design consultants accompany customers. She wants to make Otsuka stores more inviting to casual shoppers so they can easily stop by without feeling intimidated by sales staff.

First published in The Japan Times on May 30.

Warm up

One-minute chat about “home.”

Game

Collect words related to houses; e.g., “room,” “furniture.”

New words

1) browse: look at casually; e.g., “I enjoy browsing in bookshops.”

2) intimidate: threaten; e.g., “She felt intimidated by the crowd.”

3) resuscitate: revive; e.g., “He is trying to resuscitate the patient.”

4) assert: to maintain or defend; e.g., “The defendant asserted his innocence.”

Guess the headline

Ot _ _ _ _ wants fl _ _ _ _ _ _ store to be friendlier

Questions

1) What was the procedure customers used to have to go through at Otsuka Kagu?

2) What are the major changes in the revamp?

3) Who were the target customers under the firm’s last president?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Where do you usually buy furniture?

2) What are the most important factors you consider when purchasing furniture?

3) What do you think Otsuka Kagu should do to revive itself?

Reference

皮肉ながら、大塚家具は実の親子の激しい権力争いによって注目の的となりました。実の父親と娘で繰り広げられた論争が大きく取り上げられ、企業イメージにはマイナスであったことでしょうが、2者それぞれその激しい言葉の根底には大塚家具を守りたいという愛社精神が胸の内にあったことでしょう。

創業当初と比べて、家具業界の環境は大きく変わりました。安さを売りにした海外の超大型家具店やオンラインショップが勢いを伸ばす中、競争は厳しいものになっていることでしょう。そのような中で、ポリシーを貫くか改革に踏み切るか、トップの決断は会社の運命を決めるものとなります。

この改革が正解なのかどうかは、いまの段階ではまだわかりません。数年後、どのような答えを大塚家具と親子は見るのでしょうか。

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