Posts Tagged ‘parking lots’

Outlet malls another American concept that may not work in Japan

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Can't get there from here: empty storefronts at Big Hop Garden Mall

This weekend marks the grand opening of Mitsui Outlet Park Kisarazu, a so-called outlet mall in the coastal city of Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture. So far the mall has 171 stores, including 21 retailers that have never before participated in any Japanese outlet mall. Mitsui Fudosan, which developed and manages the facility, says it hopes to eventually have 250 stores in the mall. Its sales target for the first year is between ¥32 billion and ¥34 billion, which would make it the biggest money-maker of the 12 outlet malls the company operates.

Mitsui isn’t the only developer staking its future on the success of American-style suburban shopping complexes. In Japan there are now 39 outlet malls, which are characterized by stores that are directly owned and run by manufacturers. In principle, that means cutting out one or more middlemen and offering greater savings on name-brand goods. According to the most recent statistics we could find there are more than 1,600 “shopping malls” in Japan, though most of these are urban complexes that vary significantly in style and form from the classic American-style shopping mall.

Nevertheless, over the past decade or so, the number of shopping malls has increased in suburban areas as more traditional shopping arcades (shotengai) have declined in number or even vanished. The main features of these suburban shopping malls is one or two large “anchor” retailers, usually a department store and/or major supermarket chain, and, most significant for Japan, the fact that they aren’t located near train stations, where land is more expensive. That means they target motorists and feature the sort of enormous parking lots that are ubiquitous in the United States but which, until recently, were unheard of in Japan.

Outlet malls don’t always incorporate major department stores or supermarkets, but they do cater to people with cars. This aspect is particularly noteworthy in the case of the new mall in Kisarazu, which is the eastern terminus of the Aqua-Line bridge-and-tunnel route that connects Chiba’s Boso peninsula to Kanagawa Prefecture over Tokyo Bay. When this very expensive, 23-km highway was completed in 1997, one of its main purposes was to encourage visits to Kisarazu and the rest of Chiba by residents of Tokyo and Kanagawa, which includes the very large cities of Kawasaki and Yokohama.

That didn’t happen. Most of the traffic actually went the other way, if it went at all. When it opened, the toll was an intimidating ¥3,000 each way. As part of his election campaign platform, current governor Kensaku Morita promised to persuade the land ministry to reduce the toll, and now it’s only ¥800 one way (as a “test discount” that appears to be permanent), but still the tourists weren’t coming to Kisarazu. Instead, they went to the restaurant and retail complex built in the middle of the Aqua-Line. The Aqua-Line itself became the attraction, not the cities on either end of it.

Continue reading about shopping malls in Japan →

Car sharing becomes more practical

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Thank you for sharing

Thank you for sharing

On June 1, Times 24, the company that operates all those parking lots, launched its ambitious Times Plus car-sharing service. So far, car sharing has been an endeavor limited to local governments and non-profit organizations. Times Plus takes it to a whole new practical level.

Unlike traditional automobile rentals, car sharing is mainly for people with short-term needs. The cars made available by Times Plus are rented in 15-minute blocks of time rather than the usual half-day or full day blocks. They offer two types of cars, “basic” (Demio, Move, Prius, etc.) and, starting in July, “premium” (BMW, Audi, Fiat, etc.). The basic fee is ¥200 for 15 minutes and premium is ¥400 for 15 minutes, which includes everything, even insurance and gasoline. There are also “pack” plans for certain times: “early night packs” (6 p.m. to midnight) or “late night packs” (midnight to 9 a.m.) at ¥1,500 each plus mileage fees, and “double night packs” (6 p.m. to 9 a.m.) at ¥2,000 plus mileage fees.

The real benefit of Times Plus is its convenience: No personnel to deal with, no forms to fill out. You can reserve a car through your PC or cell phone. Then all you do is go to the designated parking lot at your registered time and find the car you selected. Using your special members card you unlock the door, retrieve the keys from the glove box, and just start driving. If you need gas, there are cards in the visor that allow you to purchase gas at either Eneos or Idemitsu gas stations and charge it to Times Plus.

To obtain a member’s card you pay a registration fee of ¥1,500. Membership fees are ¥1,000 a month, but monthly fees are waived for registered students and companies. However, if you do pay a monthly fee and you borrow a Demio, the first 75 minutes of your rental is free. When you return the car, you simply lock it. At the end of the month, your designated credit card is billed.

The advantage of the system is the Times 24 network, which is already nationwide and ubiquitous. The company started as a realtor in 1973 and in 1985 went into the parking lot business, soliciting property owners whose land was not being used. Basically, the property owners became franchisees. Times 24 would install parking devices on the land and pay the property owner a percentage of the revenues. When the bottom fell out of the property market after the bubble era, Times 24 cleaned up because a lot of land owners didn’t know what to do with their property while they waited for it to increase in value so they could sell it. The thing is, Times 24 parking lots are everywhere, which means Times Plus car sharing is everywhere as well.

There are certain drawbacks to the Times Plus system. You have to return the car to its original parking lot, and penalties apply if you drive outside a certain zone or continue using the car after your reserved time. But those conditions apply to rental cars, too. And speaking of rental cars, Times Plus members get a 20 percent discount at Mazda Rentacar, which seems to be a partner in the new endeavor.

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