It’s the jam-packed parking lot that you notice first. Everyone is moving towards the same shop in the area. It’s a new one, with a little red shopping bag sign. You enter. There’s almost no room to walk without bumping into people in the aisles packed with anything and everything. Earphones and power banks. Stuffed toy dogs, pandas and cats. Household items, racks, cutlery, mats and scented candles. From personal items such as sunglasses, wallets and flip-flops to nifty items for your office; it’s a wide range.

Investments made

We’re standing inside a Miniso store, the pseudo-Japanese low-cost variety retail brand that’s mushrooming all over India. If you are in Delhi, chances are you’ve seen one of these; there are 25 stores in the capital alone. Perhaps you read about the company when it entered India, in August 2017, or when, in September 2018, the Chinese internet giant Tencent, along with the Asian investment firm Hillhouse Capital, invested 1 billion yuan ($147.3 million) in the company. But not all is well in la la land. In December 2018, the company moved a bankruptcy application against its own brand licensees in Canada alleging misuse of trademarks and later, reached an interim agreement to work out a long-term solution.

Miniso started in Tokyo in 2013 and at present, operates more than 2600 stores across 70 countries and regions, with a turnover of $1.5 billion as of 2016, according to the brand profile of the company on its website. The company has been in India since August 2017 and has already opened a total of 70 stores. That is a big number for a 16-month old foreign brand. In its two years in India, Japanese lifestyle brand Muji, which has a similar proposition as Miniso, somewhat wider though, has opened four stores, as of March 2018, according to data sourced from business research platform Tofler. A similar homegrown low-cost general merchandise chain Market99 has opened about 50 stores in 11 years. Even a foreign brand as big as Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M has managed to open slightly over 35 stores since 2015 in India.

But that’s not it for Miniso in India. The company is claiming to have earned a rather significant amount in its short time—Rs 700 crore ($99.1 million) in revenue, between August 2017-18. Most foreign brands just about start adjusting to Indian laws and the fragmented market in that period. And a Rs 700-crore revenue is particularly hard to swallow for a new brand, one whose origins are dubious. Despite claiming to be a Japanese brand, it is an open secret that Miniso, in fact, is a Chinese company.

While consumers in India are least bothered about the foundations of the brand, there aren’t many retail executives and analysts that know and trust the brand. Regardless, the brand is gaining appeal in India. For now. Miniso products adhere to minimalism, solid colours and simple designs; and they’re not very distinctive.

Meanwhile, the year 2018 has seen at least two new foreign variety retail brands — Kioda and Beccos—launch in India. Once the novelty factor wears off, Miniso will have its work cut out—to keep the consumers engaged and its products unique, particularly when there is no dearth of copycats in India, in both the organised and unorganised sectors. Are the odds in Miniso’s favour?

Talk shop

Miniso is modelled on the concept of dollar stores, a market that has largely remained untapped in India. The company sells products across 10 categories in India—the top three being beauty and personal care, fashion and accessories, and toys. Most of these are priced between Rs 150 ($2.12) and Rs 450 ($6.37), according to the website of the India entity. Products like bags, wallets and some electronics are priced higher, closer to Rs 1,000 ($14.2). Still affordable though. In comparison, while Muji’s price range may start from Rs 150 for smaller health and beauty items, it goes on to touch Rs 45,000 ($637.3) in case of furniture and home appliances.

“We believe in affordable pricing and we plan to stick with this pricing. It’s a simple theory but it needs a lot of work to maintain the price and quality,” said Young Liu, chief business development officer at Miniso Life Style Pvt. Ltd, the India arm of Miniso.