Hamleys opens first Japanese stores as British firms look to Asia for international growth

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Hamleys has opened its first stores in Japan – large, vibrant, theme park-style outlets — on Friday (30 November) and Saturday (1 December).

This makes the world’s oldest toy retailer (founded in London in 1760) one of many British companies looking to East Asia to expand. Intralink — a business development consultancy which helps western firms like Hamleys grow in East Asia — is finding more and more companies focusing on Japan, China and Korea as part of international expansion strategies that look beyond Europe.

Intralink brokered a partnership for Hamleys with Japanese video games firm Bandai Namco Amusement to form a £300 million venture through which it is opening its first two Japanese stores this weekend. These are in Yokohama City near Tokyo, opening on Friday 30 November, and in Fukuoka, western Japan, opening on Saturday 1 December.

The stores will bring together Hamleys’ and Bandai Namco’s respective retail and entertainment expertise. They will have entertainers, playground attractions including merry-go-rounds, games corners and infant play spaces. The Yokohama store will be 3,000m2 and the Fukuoka store 5,000m2, with around 6,000 products on sale. The company is aiming for 4 million visitors to each store in the first year.

Through the Bandai Namco partnership, Hamleys plans to open a total of 30 stores in Japan over the next five years, which will secure 1,000 UK jobs and over 3,600 in Japan.

Hamleys has previously expanded its brand in India and southeast Asia, but these stores in Japan are its first in East Asia.

Members of Intralink’s Tokyo staff, which acted as Hamleys’ business development team in Japan, spent several months working to select the right partner and develop a suitable framework for a franchise deal, which was finalised in May 2018.

This involved months of market research and business modelling plus several trips between the UK and Japan for Bandai Namco executives to explore Hamleys’ UK legacy and for both partners to visit potential store sites in Japan.

Intralink Japan’s Alecia Thomson, project manager for the Hamleys initiative, said: “We spoke to dozens of potential partners and uncovered a great deal of interest in Hamleys, but Bandai Namco quickly emerged as the top contender. The two companies’ cultures and visions fit so well together.”

Claus Nielsen, Hamleys’ executive responsible for securing the partnership, said: “We know Japan is a complex market and recognised that, to find the best possible partner, we needed local expertise. Intralink not only helped us find the ideal retail partner but, through their market insights and cultural understanding, guided us all the way to contract signing. Without Intralink, there would have been no deal.”

Hamleys CEO, Ralph Cunningham, said: “Japan represents an exciting and important market and is key to Hamleys’ continued international growth strategy. We look forward to bringing smiles to the faces of children and families all over Japan and delivering the unique Hamleys in-store experience to this fantastic market”.

Many other British firms are doing likewise and firmly focused on expanding in Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan.

Intralink has helped more than 750 companies expand into East Asia over its 28-year history, generating over £200 million in revenues for them. The company’s retail clients also include Dyson, John Lewis, Whittard, and jewellery firms Clogau and Links of London.

Greg Sutch, Intralink CEO, comments: “There are big challenges in entering East Asian markets — especially language barriers, navigating the cultural nuances of how business is done and having the right connections in Asian companies.

“But there are equally big rewards for those who succeed. These are amongst the world’s largest economies and home to global corporates which represent huge market opportunities for western firms.”