Toys-R-Us in Japan

December 30, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

I CAME to buy a Christmas gift for my daughter, but she wants everything, moaned Emiko Endo as she trailed her 2-year-old through the isles of a Toys-R-Us store. Sound familiar? The lament echoed with a wonderful resonance across the Pacific Ocean because Endo, along with 17,000 other Japanese consumers jammed the first Toys-R-Us store in Japan on opening day. The world's largest toy retailer made its debut in a Tokyo suburb one Friday before Christmas and rang up weekend sales that broke all grand store opening sales records of the Paramus, N.J.-based company.

The store was three years in the making and took the help of Washington. Access to Japan had been a flash point between U.S.-Japan trade negotiators during Structural Impediment Initiatives talks. . . . Tokyo agreed to ease its "big store law" that allowed mom and pop retailers to delay for as long as 10 years the approval of any nearby large store. Even then, it wasn't easy. The chain, which can sell at discount prices by buying direct from manufacturers, had to cut through Japan's distribution labyrinth. It was a struggle for Toys-R-Us to buy direct in quantity from Japanese manufacturers but it managed to cut deals with more than 50 Japanese toy makers.

About 40 percent of the store's stock in Tokyo is imported and not necessarily from America. So the U.S. trade deficit from Japan is unlikely to shrink significantly. Still, the U.S. chain is the first foreign company to operate a full-scale, toy discount outlet in Japan. . . . [Its] phenomenal reception challenges the conventional wisdom that quality-conscious Japanese consumers are not bargain-hunters. The American chain is cracking open the market, which may mean wider access for other U.S. goods.

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