(Bloomberg) -- Muji, the Japanese retailer known for its minimalist, earth-toned home goods, is starting a furniture subscription service as consumers embrace the new normal of working from home.
Seeking to satisfy customers who are setting up home offices and spending more time in their houses, Muji is offering monthly and annual subscriptions for office and lounge furniture sets, a business pioneered by Plano, Texas-based Rent-A-Center Inc. An oak desk and chair set costs as little as 800 yen ($7) a month, depending on the length of the contract, according to Muji operator Ryohin Keikaku Co.
One of the beneficiaries of the global pandemic has been home-furnishing providers, as people are forced to change consumption habits for necessities. Given the fact that apartments in Japanese cities can be very small, catering to singles or small families, rental furniture makes it especially easy for people to try out different products or send back furniture to reclaim valuable space.
The idea isn’t necessarily new. Ikea announced last year that it would start testing furniture rentals in 30 markets starting in 2020.
Even in Japan, known for long work hours in the office, businesses are starting to embrace the idea of remote work.
Last week, Fujitsu Ltd. said it would halve its office spaces and encourage its 80,000-plus office staff to work from home in a shift to the “new normal.” Instead of providing commuting expenses, the electronics maker is giving employees a monthly stipend of 5,000 yen to set up work-from-home operations.
Muji’s furniture rentals, which will be offered in major Japanese cities first before expanding to other areas, also include bedroom sets and living-room ensembles.
So far, the biggest beneficiary of the pandemic has been low-cost furniture maker Nitori Holdings Co., whose shares are up 30% this year. Rent-A-Center shares are down 6.7% over the same period. Ryohin Keikaku could use a new source of income — hit by Muji store closures during the pandemic, its stock is down 43% this year.
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