If the millennial won’t go to the merchandise bring the merchandise to the millennial. The home furnishings industry, forever on the lookout for a way to connect with the new wave of elusive customers who may not yet be as focused on decorating as previous generations, is putting up the vacancy sign.
Muji, the Zen-like, less-is-more brand from Japan, has gone into the hospitality business, opening its debut hotel in the Chinese city of Shenzhen in January, with two more planned over the next 18 months, in Beijing and Tokyo. While fashion brands like Armani and Bulgari have already discovered the connection between retail and rooms – each has opened several hotels under its brand name over the past three years – Muji is believed to be the first true home furnishings-based brand to get into the business. As such, it will have a head start over two of its U.S.-based counterparts that are expected to open hotels starting later this year. West Elm, the Williams Sonoma unit that has become a millennial-darling the past few years, will be first up, having announced in 2016 that it would open its initial hotels later this year. The company said there will be six locations in this first wave, in Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia, North Carolina, Indianapolis and Indiana. There have been few details since the original announcement so it wouldn’t be unusual for there to be delays or changes in the plan.
RH – yes, some people will always call it Restoration Hardware – has yet to make an official announcement but it is believed to be working on a hotel around the corner from its upcoming new gallery in the Meatpacking District in lower Manhattan. For RH particularly, this is a logical progression on its march towards its merchandising reinvention that now includes stores with bars, restaurants, art galleries and even doughnut counters.
Food service is also part of the Muji strategy. The 79-room hotel occupies five floors in a building that just happens to house a Muji store and a Muji diner on the ground floor.
Like what you see when you wake up in the morning? Or when you grab lunch? It can be yours just steps away.
The restaurant tie-in is turning up elsewhere already. ABC Home, the legendary New York City home furnishings landmark, has opened several restaurants – in connection with noted chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten – within its Broadway flagship with tableware and other decorative accessories that are available in the store.
And the latest twist on home meets hospitality is yet another variation on the theme. The architectural and design firm Roman and Williams, best known for such restaurant interiors as the Standard Highline, the Boom Boom Room and Lafayette, has opened its own home furnishings store under the Roman and Williams Guild brand in New York.
All of this home and hospitality mash-up activity is clearly designed to find a new way to reach a generation that is just not shopping as their parents did. If they are not going to the mall, heading out to the strip center or strolling the local lifestyle center than this is how you reach them. And, more importantly, the timing of this movement is no coincidence. The millennial generation is on the brink of its inevitable march to home ownership. Whatever the hipster clichés about them only wanting to spend their money on experiences, the more truthful fact is that as they start to have families, the millennials are going to focus more on where – and how – they live. This is prime time for the home business.
So Muji and West Elm and RH are all thinking the same thing: we’ll give you an experience, you give us your home furnishings budget.
Warren Shoulberg is a journalist who has been reporting on the home furnishings industry for much of his career. He would gladly get his Zen on and stay at the Muji Hotel.