Permanent Age.well-known as a “successful independent store”
What's essential to selling basic designs is the style and vibe of the store itself, and that kind of thing is only obtained through time. After running this store for over 10 years, we feel it finally is able to emit a special presence which customers are able to recognize. Our current accomplishments are products of persistence, as opposed to a career of flashy and large-scaled investments. It may be necessary for the current industry to focus on stability, instead of being influenced by short lived trends."
Although it is not mentioned much, many privately owned apparel stores have been going out of business in the recent years. Until the late 90s, small stores, even if they only had one or two branches, were featured in fashion magazines. Now, the industry is dominated by major chain stores, select shop chains, and major SPA brands. Putting aside preference and personal opinion, that is the current situation of apparel retail stores.
I would like to introduce to you a store which does not fit into this category, a store which continues to gain attention through its impressive sales, despite being an independent store. The store is “Permanent Age”, located in the Kurakuen of the Hyogo prefecture.
When Permanent Age opened a pop-up store for a week in the main Umeda branch of the Hankyu department store, they reached an impressive sales of over 10 million yen, a record on the 10th floor of Hankyu Umeda.
President Yuu Hayashi opened Permanent Age in 2000, which means it is currently their 16th year. “That’s equivalent to the years that I owned my former apparel maker.” President Hayashi used to run an apparel maker called “itional”, which unfortunately went out of business in the year of 2000. Then, on the same year, he made a fresh start as a retail store.
President Hayashi will be 67 years old this year, but the first time I met his was 12 years ago, around 2004. At that time, I was editing magazines at a small editing production company in Osaka. Actually, I was barely getting by since I had just joined the company and had absolutely no experience in editing magazines.
President Hayashi appeared as a male model on a page which I was in charge of. I got acquainted with Mr. Hayashi for the first time through this job.
The magazine was a mere local magazine with very low circulation, but amazingly, it became a trigger for President Hayashi’s following appearances in various fashion magazines and brand ads. Watching his success through the tiny magazine was a surreal experience for me, and almost felt like a miracle.
About five years ago, I interviewed him for an industry magazine. By then, his store was already well-known as a “successful independent store”.
The size of the store is about 30 tsubo, which is around 99 square meters. It is designed with a small entrance and narrow shape, and is small in size compared to most recent stores, which usually exceed 100 tsubo (approximately 330 square meters). Their items are mainly basic and casual, and none of their clothing or goods have bold or innovative designs.
Some of the men’s brands they carry are “nanamica”, “orSlow, “THE NORTH FACE PURPLE LABEL”, “Barbour”, and “John Smedley”, all which are popular brands, but not out of the ordinary. So what make this store special? One factor is the media attention gained by President Hayashi and his wife, appearing frequently in fashion magazines for the mature generation.
It is not necessary that stores which appear frequently in the media gain success. Many stores backed up by the media still go out of business. Media exposure can create opportunities for recognition, but does not always link to sales.
When asking about the factors of his success, Mr. Hayashi explained, “I believe it is significant that we have multiple sales channels besides the physical store. The first is our directly managed online store, the second is the pop-up stores at malls, and the third is wholesale of original products. So in total, we have four sales channels.”
Online stores are common in recent years, but Permanent Age began theirs at around 2004. I would like to say he had a foresight, but President Hayashi laughs and says, “Actually, I just opened it because an acquaintance of mine kept bothering me. He would say to me that the future is in online sales, and that we would become a fossil if we don’t start. This got on my nerves, so I told him that I plan to open one instantly. Now that I think about it, I am grateful that we got an early start. It would have been a late start after 2005, and possibly too early before 2003. So he really did provoke me at an exquisite timing.”
A retail store opening a pop-up within a mall may not be unusual anymore, but when I visited five years ago, it was still very rare. It was even considered a taboo for an independent retail store, regardless of how small they are, to open a pop-up store in a department store, which is also in the retail business. Currently, Permanent Age holds pop-ups at four department stores: Hankyu Umeda, the main Isetan branch in Shinjuku, the Matsuzakaya Nagoya branch, and Iwataya. President Hayashi claims “this is our limit since we have very few staff. We do not plan to increase any more pop-ups.”
The decision to manufacture original products was driven from President Hayashi’s prior experience in operating an apparel maker. It is widely known that major select stores are increasing their ratio of original products to pursue profit margins. However, it is not as well-known that the apparel industry’s excessive infrastructure allows small stores to easily manufacture original products, as long as the minimum order quantity is met. President Hayashi used his knowledge to begin producing original products at an early stage, and now distributes his products to other stores.
It is clear that a large factor of their success is in the various approaches made, instead of fixating on sales solely through their physical store.
When asking Mr. Hayashi, who has observed the apparel industry for many years, about his views towards the current industry, he replied, “As the society matured, it has become impossible to sell products solely through design or brand names. It has also become more difficult to impose the creator’s statements or excessive subjectivity onto the consumer. In order to emphasize with customers, it is important to have an objective eye, and reasoning behind the products.”
He then continued, “The performance of the recent fashion industry is low. Proposals are superficial, as if suggesting a new way of eating cutlets with chopsticks, instead of a knife and fork. Obviously, this kind of approach is not effective. I feel that sales will not recover unless we explore more fundamental solutions. In other words, changing the seasoning of the cutlet, or maybe presenting a whole new dish.”
“It is often said that the industry is categorized into two extremes: low-priced goods or ultra-high-priced items, but I am not sure if that is really the case. UNIQLO’s product are great, but we don’t fill our closets with UNIQLO or feel satisfied wearing only UNIQLO designs. To satisfy our needs we want to buy items from a different brand. When doing so, it is not likely that the person would all of a sudden purchase high end brand item for hundreds of thousands of yen. Instead, they search for items which fall in-between, only a few thousands of yen more expensive than UNIQLO. However, the industry claims that intermediate price range does not sell. My opinion is that the problem is not the lack of demand in the intermediate price range. It is in the bullets used to hit the target”, Mr. Hayashi says, expressing his doubts towards the industry.
He concluded by explaining, “The designs of most of our items are basic, which means copying them would only result in plain, unoriginal clothing. What’s essential to selling basic designs is the style and vibe of the store itself, and that kind of thing is only obtained through time. After running this store for over 10 years, we feel it finally is able to emit a special presence which customers are able to recognize. Our current accomplishments are products of persistence, as opposed to a career of flashy and large-scaled investments. It may be necessary for the current industry to focus on stability, instead of being influenced by short lived trends.”
President Hayashi claims that he is at an age to consider retirement. My only hope is that his views and beliefs will be passed on to the next generation.
Text: Mitsuhiro Minami
Picture: Koichiro Sato
Translation: Yukie Haneda
Close： Tuesday（Excluding holidays）
Access： Kurakuenguchi Station. Walk about 5 minutes.