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Mystery of Japanese “Gyouretsu” culture on grand opening

Blue Bottle Coffee and “Gyouretsu”

Blue_Bottle_Coffee_1st_StoreHave you heard a Japanese word “Gyouretsu“? That’ what you saw at Blue Bottle Coffee that opened today its 1st store in Japan — it means a long line of customers waiting to enter the store.

I was also a part of them who went to the store before 8AM this morning, but there were already a long line of customers waiting in chilly outside air.  I was told I need to wait 2 hours to get into the store, so I unfortunately had to give up tasting their coffee in order not to be late for work.  I will be back!

It is reported that the line of up to 300 people and 3 hours of waiting time lasted until the closing.  The first customer arrived at 3AM in the morning and waited 5 hours until the 8AM store opening time.

This store [map] is located at a quiet residential area walking distance from Kiyosumi-shirakawa subway station.  It is quite difficult to find the store and the visibility of the store is quite low – most people might need to ask google map how to get there.  As a location of a coffee shop, it should be evaluated as a C level site.

Despite the bad location, why this long line of “Gyouretsu” was formed? Who are they, and where do they come from?

It’s a mysterious Japanese “Gyouretsu” culture, but in fact, every successful foreign retail chain store company experiences this “Gyouretsu” phenomenon upon market entry.

What is “Gyouretsu” phenomenon and why it happens?

In Japan, when a foreign brand that Japanese consumers feel “novelty” and “newsworthiness” opens up its 1st store, hundreds or even thousands of curious Japanese line up in “Gyouretsu” to experience the brand before anyone else.  Many even stand there waiting overnight.  Media loves “Gyouretsu” picture and the broadcast of “Gyouretsu” adds more people to the line.


For Japanese consumers, it’s a fun party or “Omatsuri” (festival) to welcome a new foreign brand.
For the brand, it’s a most effective promotion to raise brand awareness and to have consumers experience the brand.
For directors, employees and business partners of the brand, it’s a truly moving experience to see “Gyouretsu” in front of their brand – it’s a huge reward for their hard preparation work.
Therefore, “Gyouretsu” phenomenon is a precious opportunity for the new brand, and it is vitally important to highten newsworthiness of the brand before Japan market entry through effective PR strategies to ensure “Gyouretsu” to be formed before 1st store opening.

To recall a few examples of such crazy “Gyouretsu” phenomenon…

  • Opening day of 1st Starbucks Coffee in Japan (Ginza, 1996); long line. Starbucks CEO Mr. Howard Schultz recalls; “We opened our first store outside of North America, in Japan, in 1996. I really thought we might fail there. On the morning of the opening, people were lined up outside. A guy had slept there overnight; he didn’t speak any English. We rushed him to the front of the line, and he said to the barista, in English, “Double tall latte.” I knew then we were going to be a huge success.” (Source: Bloomberg Businessweek)
  • Opening day of 1st H&M store in Japan (Ginza, 2008); over 5,000 people lined up that day.
  • Opening day of 1st Forever 21 store in Japan (Harajuku, 2009); over 1,200 people lined up before opening.
  • Opening day of 1st Abercrombie & Fitch store in Japan (Ginza, 2009); over 700 people lined up before opening.
  • Opening day of 1st Flying Tiger Copenhagen store in Japan (Osaka, 2012); over 400 people lined up before opening.
  • Opening day of 1st IKEA store in Japan (Funabashi, 2006); over 500 people lined up before opening.
  • Opening day of 1st Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store in Japan (Shinjuku, 2006); 3 hours waiting line from opening to closing.
    … and so on, the list can go on to many pages.

On the other hand, it is also true that there are many new foreign brands that unfortunately cannot experience this “Gyouretsu” phenomenon upon its 1st store opening.

What divides the new foreign brands that can experience “Gyouretsu” phenomenon and those cannot?
That is the “newsworthiness” of the brand.
Starbucks Coffee, H&M, IKEA were newsworthy because they were already famous around the world.
Blue Bottle Coffee was newsworthy because Japanese consumers already knew American coffee culture from Starbucks, and recently heard about the third wave coffee movement as a hot topic in the U.S.
Flying Tiger Copenhagen was newsworthy because Japanese consumers already knew Nordic household groceries culture from IKEA, plus their products were so new and eye-catchy.

But keep in mind that “Gyouretsu” will not be there forever

Managers of the successful new brand should also keep in mind an important fact about “Gyouretsu” phenomenon:
“Gyouretsu” disappears sooner or later.
Many people standing in “Gyouretsu” are coming from outside of the market; some traveled 3 hours by train or might even took an airplane to get to the store just to become the brand’s honored 1st customer.

So even if they fall in love with the brand, they cannot come back often. This explains why trade-area size for the store shrinks as the brand grow older, and why the speedy store expansion is important for sustainable business growth — the brand must open stores in more convenient locations before consumers forget the “wow” of the brand experience, and before the media buzz upon the brand’s market entry disappears.