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Why Miniso is Making Hello Kitty, Barbie and Care Bears the Stars of its New Store

The new Miniso store at American Dream mall.
The new Miniso IP Collection store at American Dream mall. (Image courtesy Miniso)

A Chinese retail brand investing heavily in U.S. expansion…sounds like we might be talking about Shein or Temu, but no. There’s another one, and unlike its digital compatriots it’s focused firmly on brick-and-mortar: Miniso. This Chinese-based “variety” retailer is embarking on a rapid expansion across the U.S., and gaining droves of Gen Z and millennial fans along the way.

Miniso staff shirts showcases the retailer's current reach in the U.S.
Miniso staff shirts showcase the retailer’s current reach across the U.S. (Photo: Retail TouchPoints)

The brand just opened its second location in New York City’s Times Square and now boasts more than 120 stores across 27 states —  10 states of which were new additions in 2023. And while the NYSE-listed retailer has focused primarily on coastal locations until now, this year’s expansion plans include a move inland with first stores opening in Ohio, Tennessee, Colorado and Utah, as well as new additions in existing states. In fact, Chang Chen, the company’s PR Director said he expects the U.S. to eventually become one of Miniso’s biggest markets, perhaps even bigger than China — which is saying something given that of the brand’s network of 6,630 global stores, more than 4,000 of them are in China.

Fans line up for the opening of the Miniso store at American Dream.
Fans line up for the opening of the Miniso store at American Dream. (Photo: Retail TouchPoints)

If the reception to the brand’s newest U.S. store — which opened at American Dream on May 3 — is any indication, Miniso will find eager customers waiting as it spreads across the country. Shoppers lined up at the New Jersey mall to be among the first to get their hands on the company’s latest offerings, which run the gamut from blind boxes, toys, stationery and stuffed animals to bathroom staples, baby products and sunglasses.

Yes, this new store represents yet another Chinese super brand with its sights set on America, but it also marks a pivot of sorts for Miniso in how it plans to achieve those ambitions. As Chang explained in an interview with Retail TouchPoints, while the company already has found success with its value-priced assortment of cute, character-emblazoned products, Miniso has hit on a new strategy to further differentiate itself — IP. Recognizable brands like Sanrio, Barbie, Care Bears and Peanuts “offer a deeper emotional connection” with consumers, said Chang, which is why, with its new American Dream store, Miniso is looking to establish itself as the “IP collection brand.”

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Tapping into ‘Interest-Based Consumption’

Chang refers to the company’s new strategy as “interest-based consumption,” where popular brands and characters become a vehicle to create an emotional connection with shoppers. “We’re going to align everything to fun,” he said.

The fun is evident at the 4,000-square-foot American Dream store, which like Miniso’s other locations is emblazoned in pink, from the walls to the ceiling. Different from previous iterations though is a banner that runs along the back wall, showcasing the biggest brands customers will find within.

One of two Sanrio feature walls at Miniso American Dream.
One of two Sanrio feature walls at Miniso American Dream. (Photo: Retail TouchPoints)

Interestingly, the store itself isn’t merchandised by brand but rather by product category. The only exception is two Sanrio-themed feature walls, one focused on Hello Kitty and My Melody (both of which fit nicely into the brand’s pink and red color scheme) and the second highlighting Kuromi. Kuromi also features front and center atop a dedicated Sanrio blind box display at the front of the store.

The special treatment for Sanrio makes sense given that the Japanese brand helped co-design the store, according to a press release from American Dream (although Sanrio’s presence in the store is much more muted than initial renderings first indicated). This isn’t the first time Sanrio and Miniso have teamed up: In October 2023, the partners opened a Sanrio flagship in Indonesia, marking Miniso’s first store dedicated to a specific IP.

Outside of the strong Sanrio presence, many other brands are on display throughout the jam-packed store, with Barbie, Care Bears and Peanuts in particular making regular appearances.

“The new flagship reflects Miniso’s latest ambitious exploration of IP collaborations in the U.S. market, aiming to further accelerate its rapid expansion within North America on the back of strong growth in 2023,” reads a press release from American Dream.

But that’s not to say that everything in the store is co-branded. Ample space at the front is given to Miniso’s own line of adult sunglasses and scent diffusers, and products such as organizers, wipes and Q-tips are peppered throughout with no character attached.

Delivering Joy Through Design

A massive screen covers the ceiling in the center of the store with a banner of the top brands represented displayed on the back wall.
A massive screen covers the ceiling in the center of the store with a banner of the top brands represented displayed on the back wall. (Photo: Retail TouchPoints)

Despite this new focus on IP, Chang said everything still goes back to Miniso’s slogan, “Life is for Fun,” and there’s no denying that the store is fun. With its bright, playful atmosphere and friendly associates, there’s no way a visit to the store won’t make you smile.

A massive ceiling screen hovers over the center of the store, occasionally bathing shoppers in red and pink light, creating a party-like atmosphere. And even though the brand doesn’t want price point to be its signature draw, the prices are still low enough to leave any shopper feeling like they got a deal.

The Penpen Inflatable from Miniso's MINI Family Collection welcoming people at American Dream mall's atrium.
A PenPen Inflatable from Miniso’s Mini Family Collection welcomed people in the American Dream atrium. (Image courtesy Miniso)

Adding to the joy at American Dream, at least for the first week of the store’s opening, was a 16-foot-tall PenPen character from Miniso’s in-house brand Mini Family, which took up residence in a central atrium near the new store. He was accompanied by a ball pit and ample photo opportunities for shoppers to enjoy and snap selfies with.

“This creative, towering installation not only celebrates Miniso’s store opening but also enriches the shopping experience with fun interactive elements, exemplifying Miniso’s commitment to delivering joy to consumers and rapid growth in the United States,” described the company in a statement.

Creating Emotional Connections with Consumers Through IP

This isn’t the first time Miniso has tweaked its U.S. growth strategy. For years, the brand’s primary selling point was its prices. In fact, when it launched its expansive 7,974-square-foot flagship in New York’s SoHo in February 2022, that store was focused on a “$10 N’ Under” model.

The ability to pivot strategy and assortment so quickly is thanks to the fact that Miniso controls its entire supply chain, Robin Liu, Miniso’s CMO and Head of Ecommerce shared with Retail TouchPoints in 2022. It’s a model very similar to the one that has enabled digital fashion retailer Shein to make such explosive gains in the U.S., and allows Miniso to respond quickly to trends and consumer demand. As Liu explained it, Miniso operates on a “7-1-1 philosophy,” wherein every seven days Miniso launches approximately 100 new SKUs selected from a library of more than 10,000 product ideas.

Lately, Miniso has noticed “the substantial interest and popularity” of co-branded collections, according to a brand statement, hence the new focus on products of that order. Following a global brand update in 2023, the company has been “strategically pursuing IP collaborations worldwide.” Miniso now has partnerships with more than 100 brands, and IP product sales contributed 40% of the company’s global revenues in 2023. Additionally, Miniso attributed its particularly strong growth in North America (128% increase in revenue annually in 2023) to IP-related sales.

The American Dream store marks the further realization of these efforts. “Our vision is to become the world’s leading IP design retail group, and North America is pivotal in achieving this goal,” said Bella Tu, General Manager of Miniso Overseas Directly Operated Markets in a statement. “The American Dream store is a key part of our strategy to enhance our global footprint and bring unique, joy-filled shopping experiences to more consumers.”

A second, larger IP-focused store will open in LA on the Santa Monica Promenade in the second half of this year, Miniso executives shared with Retail TouchPoints. And that will just be a drop in the bucket, with the company targeting the addition of 900 to 1,100 new stores globally this year.

In more populated locales like New York City, some of those stores might even be neighbors, like the brand’s two current stores in Times Square. Chang hinted that even more stores might be coming to that neighborhood in the future, likening the company’s placement strategy to that of 7-Eleven: “We’ve found that even if two stores are around the corner from each other, just one block away, they don’t really impact each other.”

It’s an attitude of access and visibility versus one of scarcity and FOMO, and it’s worked well for the company in other markets. It’s also even more essential right now as the brand has currently paused all online sales in the U.S., although that will likely not be permanent. Miniso did have an online store in the U.S. but that site is currently unavailable as the company focuses on its offline store experience, a spokesperson for the company said. A return to ecommerce is likely in the cards for the future though, the spokesperson added.

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