Q&A: Unicorn Stores HK CEO Paul Wong on opening premium Japanese lifestyle store GUU SAN

Japanese culture has seen a boom as of late, with beloved Japanese manga character Doraemon's Chinese New Year collaboration with GUCCI as one key example. This is especially true in Hong Kong, where a variety of Japanese-style retail experiences have spread like wildfire over the past year.

One of these is GUU SAN, opened late last year by Unicorn Stores (HK) to bring an upscale Japanese lifestyle store to Tsim Sha Tsui. The store is set in a beautiful, 5,000-square foot retail space that offers the style and tranquility of a Japanese town, offering customers an experience as much as a place to get the goods they seek. There's even a wish-making area.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to Unicorn Stores (HK) CEO Paul Wong to learn about launching GUU SAN, Hong Kong's love for Japanese goods, and the Japanese way of life.


What is the philosophy of GUU SAN?

GUU SAN is the new premium Japanese lifestyle grocery store of Unicorn Stores (HK). It aims to provide Japanese high-quality fresh food and groceries, bringing new and ideal choices for exquisite Japanese lifestyle lovers and busy urbanites who pursue excellence in food quality and health.

Our motto is “GUU ds from the valley, SAN ctuary of the city”. Like a small valley full of crops, GUU SAN brings abundance, satisfaction and joyfulness to customers; and like the brilliance of the sun, moon and stars that shine upon the dew of the valleys, GUU SAN provides us with nature’s blessings. When customers walk into GUU SAN, they can enjoy four ideal life spirits of “Shelter”, “Growth”, “Rest” and “Convergence” advocated by the brand. These spirits inject vitality into the busy life of urbanites and make them feel relaxed and joyful, both physically and mentally.

guu san interior

What sort of products have you curated and why do these specifically speak to the Hong Kong market?

Upholding the aim of “Meeting friends through goods”, the brand gathers people who pursue the same quality of life and admire the simplicity and refinement of Japanese culture. GUU SAN has selected various high-quality products directly delivered from Japan and worldwide, including fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, frozen and pre-packaged foods, daily groceries and more.

In recent years, customers are looking for healthier choices, while different customers have different demands about healthiness. The brand has carefully sourced a variety of healthy food of different attributes to fulfill different needs. We offer comprehensive product training to our staff and display product cards to enhance communication with customers, and share the features and attributes of our selections for them to make informed choices about their purchase.

Sustainability is also a chief concern for customers. To minimise waste, SAWAYA encourages customers to purchase healthy nuts and whole grains as much as they need with the paper bags provided. We also worked with brands like SORA, which offers beautiful and practical multi-purpose yoga towels made of recycled materials.

Any particularly interesting products or offerings that have been a hit with the locals here?

Healthy snacks and groceries from Japan are the fast movers. Fresh fruits and vegetables also achieve outstanding sales results. Noting that many customers want to eat fruit on-the-go, we prepare prepackaged sliced fruits in cups to allow customers to enjoy fresh fruits without any hassles.

kome korner guu san

We also include KOME KORNER (above) and The Salfee Bar in our delicatessen section, which also receive lots of love from customers. KOME KORNER shifts the perception of a quick meal to the act of slow, intentional living and recognises the significance of taking a break by consuming high quality nutritious Japanese ingredients. The Salfee Bar also satisfies customers from their hearts through combinations of creative flavour, Instagrammable products and fresh and healthy ingredients. We attribute their success to customers’ rising consciousness about health and focus on self-care and wellness.

We've seen a huge boom in desire for Japanese goods and culture in Hong Kong over the past year. What would you attribute that to?

Hong Kong people have become keen to intentional living and know well how to indulge themselves with quality life and food after busy work time. Japan’s sense of excellence lies in its attention to every detail, which makes their products renowned for superb quality. In this fast-paced city, customers need more ‘me time’ with attentive shopping experiences, which is in line with Japanese style service, advocating thoughtfulness and attention to details.

wish making area guu san

You've created a beautiful retail space – a bold move as many brands are looking away from retail and going online.

Undeniably e-shopping is increasingly popular, especially during the pandemic. On the other hand, physical stores possess uniqueness and irreplaceable values to exist. As mentioned, GUU SAN is not only a retail shop, but also a breathing space in the heart of the city. We create a Zen atmosphere through the incorporation of Japanese inspired interior design, curated goods and warm natural sunlight, evoking a sense of calmness and tranquility. We make spaces for customers to relax and enjoy a soothing cup of freshly brewed coffee and a delicious snacks in a 5,000 square feet shopping area.

The ceiling design reflects the torii of Japanese shrines, and the theme wall is inspired by running water to calm your mind. There is also an LED art installation alternately playing mellow watercolour style videos with smooth and lively music.

When customers step into GUU SAN, they can enjoy the exquisite and leisurely life in a classic Japanese style and have the opportunity to spend peaceful time wandering through a Japanese small town while in a heart of the city in Hong Kong. This precious shopping experience is one-of-a-kind, which is not comparable to an online shop.

Any creative ways that you market to your customers in a time that we're all still socially distancing?

2020 was a challenging year for everyone. To make every guest who visits GUU SAN feel blessed and experience traditional Japanese culture, GUU SAN has specially designed a wish-making area modeled after Japanese shrines. Holding GUU SAN commemorative gold coins and wishing cards at the wishing area, customers could first shake the "suzuo" (すずお”), then throw the commemorative gold coins into the wishing pool. Customers could write wishes on the wishing card, and hang the cards on the wishing shelves to pray for realising their wishes.

GUU SAN takes this opportunity to send heartfelt wishes and blessings to customers, and to share these blessings with their loved ones and friends. It received positive feedback and customers absolutely feel the warmth from GUU SAN.

Anything else you'd like to add?

In addition to GUU SAN, Unicorn Stores (HK) has also launched UNY in Yuen Long and Well-Being Space in APITA during pandemic. We have our expansion plan in pipeline to serve customers in different districts. We wish our customers a better quality of life and to unwind from a long day of work after shopping with us.