TOKYO: Japanese discount retailer Don Quijote was once the industry's enfant terrible, overturning standard retail practices with its cluttered and chaotic stores that sell everything from faux leopard-skin rugs to designer watches.
These days, however, Donki - as it popularly known - is more of a role model, defying Japan's weak retail environment to last week report its 29th year of unbroken sales and profit growth.
With sales projected to hit 1 trillion yen (US$9 billion) this year, Donki is joining the top ranks of Japan's heavyweight retail market, among the likes of Aeon Co Ltd, Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing Co Ltd and convenience store operator Seven & i Holdings Co Ltd.
The company says its success lies in its ability to amuse customers, who have tired of the efficient yet predictable shopping experiences at other Japanese stores.
"Our biggest rival is not Amazon or Aeon, but customers' losing interest," Mitsuo Takahashi, Don Quijote's chief financial officer, told Reuters in an interview.
After struggling to find sites in some areas to fuel its sustained expansion, Donki has tied up with FamilyMart Uny Holdings to convert its struggling big box stores, delivering a rapid turnaround at the first six outlets to try the new format.
And on Monday (Aug 13), the discounter said it would be interested in buying Walmart Inc's Seiyu supermarket unit, reflecting its increasingly ubiquitous presence on Japan's shopping streets, where it has replaced stores struggling in the new economy.
As Amazon grows rapidly in Japan, Donki aims to increase the fun of visiting stores by making its app more interactive - with points to collect and discounts to find - in a doubling down on its store-focused approach.
"If Amazon is like downloading music, we are like a concert venue. Both are needed," Donki Chief Executive Koji Ohara said on Monday.
Shoppers at Donki are welcomed by tanks of exotic fish before they enter a maze-like warren piled high with goods ranging from face-massaging gadgets to oversized bags of potato chips.
What feels like a pell-mell approach is actually a finely honed company strategy, the result of decades of experimentation in each store.
First-time customers often come away bewildered and humming the store's unending earworm of a theme song, but return for more, drawn back by a constantly changing array of goods.
Many of the products Donki sells are cast off from other retailers, a result of the Japanese penchant for a huge variety of seasonal, limited edition and experimental products, from cans of beer splashed with cherry blossom patterns to yogurt-flavored water.
Stocking decisions are left to store staff, and financial incentives help motivate them to source and display wares effectively. The approach is a far cry from how head offices micromanage the operations of many large Japanese retailers.
With every store catering to local tastes, "you cannot create a strategy that will be effective against all of their stores," Jefferies analyst Michael Jon Allen said of Donki's rivals.
Donki also has a growing range of store formats, including smaller Picasso stores, giant Mega Don Quijote and even a Platinum Don Quijote selling high-end products.
Looking to expand but faced with a shortage of suitable suburban locations, Donki last year took a 40 per cent stake in the merchandise store unit of FamilyMart Uny Holdings.
It's an unlikely marriage of disparate corporate cultures. But so far it seems successful: the companies' first six Donki-style stores have almost doubled sales in the five months to July, with a further 20 stores to be converted in 2019.
That is helping push Donki toward its target of 500 stores by 2020, from 420 stores currently. Uny has almost 200 locations.
The purchase of part or all of Walmart's Seiyu chain would mark a dramatic acceleration of that expansion. Walmart says it has not made a decision to sell Seiyu.
DON DON DONKI
Donki's newest frontier is overseas, with two "Don Don Donki" stores opened in Singapore in the last year and another due to open in Bangkok this year.
Founder Takao Yasuda, who moved to Singapore after retiring three years ago, drove the expansion there after finding Japanese products too costly. Prices are as much as 50 per cent lower than rivals, said Takahashi, the CFO.
The Singapore stores are stocked mainly with food and drink, leveraging Japan's culinary reputation. Donki's "yaki-imo" or baked sweet potato is its best-selling product.
Singapore-based Euromonitor analyst Chayadi Karim said Don Quijote has tweaked its strategy in Singapore, where shoppers are unburdened by a deflationary mindset and "are willing to pay that premium for Japanese products."
Southeast Asian expansion, with several new stores opening annually, along with 28 outlets in Hawaii and California, are building Donki's food retailing expertise.
Concerns about overly rapid expansion weighed on the company's shares this year, and like all Japanese retailers, it faces headwinds from the country's aging population and growing affection for online retailers.
But for now, its ability to make money seems to be resilient.
In the most recent quarter Donki's gross margin - a key measure of profitability - climbed 0.4 per cent on a year earlier to 26.6 per cent.
SINGAPORE: A 51-year-old man was sentenced to 22 months' jail and a fine on Tuesday (Aug 14) for molesting an intellectually disabled woman, punching a man and behaving in a disorderly manner.
Juma Khan Rasik Khan had made the police report over the molestation himself. On Nov 5 last year, he called the police and told them that "one lady (followed) me to my house".
He said the woman was his friend, according to court documents. He said he did not have sex with her, but admitted that he performed sexual acts on her.
"Now she want to confront me and say that I (had sex with) her," he said. "Can get the police to come?"
Investigations revealed that the victim, a 36-year-old woman who has been assessed by the Institute of Mental Health to have intellectual disability, was sitting at a void deck at about 1.15pm that day when Juma approached her.
He asked her to follow him, and he took her to his home in Ang Mo Kio. He knew the woman, as he was acquainted with her father.
In his room, Juma took off his clothes and asked the victim to remove hers as well. He then performed sexual acts on her, even though he was aware that the victim was intellectually disabled and would not be able to give her consent.
The woman then said she wanted to leave the house, and they got dressed and left. She went back to the void deck, where she met some of her father's friends and told them what happened.
Juma was later arrested by the police.
DEGREE OF SEXUAL EXPLOITATION VERY HIGH: PROSECUTION
He pleaded guilty to one charge of using criminal force on the victim to outrage her modesty on Tuesday.
He also admitted to two other charges: One of behaving in a disorderly manner at a block in Ang Mo Kio in December 2016, and one of punching a man in March this year with a belt wrapped around his fist.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Chua asked for a jail sentence of at least 24 months and 1 week, saying that Juma had exploited a particularly vulnerable victim.
"The degree of sexual exploitation was very high," she said. "There was skin-to-skin contact and the accused and victim were both naked. There was a level of premeditation involved as he essentially lured her to his house."
Juma, who was unrepresented, claimed he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He is currently serving a sentence for another crime - he had been sentenced to 11 months' jail in January this year for voluntarily causing hurt. His appeal against this sentence had been dismissed.
District Judge John Ng sentenced Juma to 22 months' jail, to be served after he finishes his current sentence, and a fine of S$1,000.
For outrage of modesty, he could have been jailed for up to two years, fined, caned, or given any combination of these punishments.
LONDON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn were locked in a row on Tuesday (Aug 14) over the Labour MP's attendance of an event that honoured suspects of the Munich Olympics massacre.
Corbyn has been accused of joining in a ceremony which included tributes to members of Black September, the group responsible for the killing of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
Netanyahu tweeted Monday that "the laying of a wreath by Jeremy Corbyn on the graves of the terrorist who perpetrated the Munich massacre ... deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone - left, right and everything in between."
Corbyn tweeted back that the Israeli premier's "claims about my actions and words are false", saying earlier that he "didn't think" he was involved in the wreath-laying.
"What deserves unequivocal condemnation is the killing of over 160 Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli forces since March, including dozens of children," he added.
The British leader admitted recently that his party had a "real problem" with antisemitism following a string of accusations against members of his party.
The latest scandal erupted after a picture emerged of Corbyn, a veteran pro-Palestinian campaigner, holding a wreath at the Cemetery of the Martyrs of Palestine, Tunisia, in 2014.
Atef Bseiso, who is buried at the site, was regarded as one of the ringleaders. He was shot dead in Paris in 1992, believed executed by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
Corbyn initially said he was commemorating 47 Palestinians killed during an Israeli bombing raid in Tunisia in 1985.
But images recovered from a Palestinian Embassy archive show him holding a wreath in front of a plaque dedicated to members of Black September.
"A wreath was indeed laid by some of those who were at the conference to those that were killed in Paris in 1992," he said on Monday.
"I was present at that wreath-laying, I don't think I was actually involved in it," he added.
The event initially came to light in the run-up to last year's general election, but re-emerged after reporters uncovered the photographs this week.
LONDON: A man was arrested after a car collided with security barriers outside London's parliament building and a number of pedestrians were injured, police said on Tuesday (Aug 14).
Police said none of the injuries were life-threatening and they could not immediately determine whether the incident was terrorism-related.
"The male driver of the car was detained by officers at the scene. A number of pedestrians have been injured. Officers remain at the scene. We will issue further info when we have it," London's police force said in a statement on Twitter.
Footage on social media showed heavily-armed police response units arriving at the scene, with the area outside the parliament building in central London sealed off.
Police said they could not immediately say whether it was a terrorism-related incident or not.
"We're still trying to piece it together," a spokeswoman said.
"Someone driving towards parliament at speed, it wasn’t a normal, it’s not a minor like accident, it’s not like a road traffic incident," witness Jason Williams told Sky News. "This is something in my opinion planned and very serious."
Media reports said a cyclist was among the injured.
Armed police immediately surrounded the silver car after it crashed at 7.37am (06:37 GMT), pointing guns at the driver as he was removed from the vehicle, according to footage posted on Twitter.
Later images showed police holding the man, dressed in jeans and a black puffer jacket, in handcuffs as roads around parliament were sealed off.
Westminster Underground station, close to parliament, was closed and the building cordoned off. No one was being allowed entry to parliament. As parliament is in recess for summer, most lawmakers are not using the building.
In March 2017, Khalid Masood, 52, killed four people on nearby Westminster Bridge before he stabbed to death an unarmed police officer in the grounds of parliament. He was shot dead at the scene.
It was the first of five attacks on Britain last year which police blamed on terrorism.
Britain is on its second highest threat level of "severe", meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.
Last week, a Muslim convert admitted plotting to kill more than 100 people by driving a truck into pedestrians on London's Oxford Street, the capital's major shopping thoroughfare.
KUALA LUMPUR: Fugitive Malaysian financier Jho Low should be held accountable if it is proven that he had bought the super yacht Equanimity with money stolen from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said on Monday (Aug 13).
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) claimed in its civil forfeiture suit last year that the US$250 million Cayman-registered yacht was owned by 37-year-old Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low.
While his whereabouts are unknown, Low has insisted through his lawyers that the seizure of the yacht and the subsequent handover to Malaysia by Indonesian national police were illegal.
Low said that the DOJ has not proven its case that the yacht is linked to 1MDB.
"NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW"
Speaking to the media after attending a parliamentary session on Monday, Najib insisted that he and the previous administration have nothing to do with the 92m super yacht that is currently docked at Boustead Cruise Terminal in Port Klang, 60km west of Kuala Lumpur.
“I don’t want to say anything. We are not involved with respect to the yacht," said Najib.
"I have always maintained that no one is above the law.
"If it is done illegally, if the yacht is obtained in a manner that is illegal in the sense that money that is not due to him has been used as alleged, then he has to be accountable for it.”
The Equanimity was seized under Malaysian maritime law on Aug 7.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has insisted that the yacht belonged to Malaysia and said on Saturday that the government needs to sell it as soon as possible because maintaining the yacht costs about US$500,000 a month.
He also said that the yacht will not be open to public to preserve its shipshape condition.
Low, through his lawyer, on Sunday accused Mahathir's government of hijacking the legal proceedings in both the US and Indonesia, disregarding the rule of law for political gain.
He has asked a US federal court to instruct the US government to explain its role in the turnover of Equanimity to the Malaysian authorities.
A status report is expected on Aug 17.
SINGAPORE: The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) plans to form a new association to support instructors and coaches, it said on Monday (Aug 13).
The National Instructors and Coaches Association (NICA) aims to look after those who teach sports, music, fitness, dance and wellness in schools and communities.
They make up about 5,000 full-time freelancers, including those who coach at Sport Singapore and People’s Association, and co-curricular activities at schools.
“NTUC has been working with various groups of coaches and instructors, and we realise that they face similar issues, common threats and training needs,” said NTUC assistant director-general and director of the Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit Ang Hin Kee.
He added that due to the nature of their work, these coaches and instructors are susceptible to physical injuries or illnesses that can easily put them out of work for weeks without income.
Hence, NICA will introduce an insurance plan catered to their needs, in line with recommendations made
by the Tripartite Workgroup on Self-Employed Persons.
NICA members will be able to enjoy up to 50 per cent discount off their premium for the first year for a prolonged medical leave insurance product. NTUC said more details on the insurance providers and products will be announced at a later date.
Members can also enjoy a “full suite” of NTUC benefits, including insurance coverage against death and disability, a S$250 training voucher for courses, as well as deals and discounts with merchant partners.
It will cost S$117 a year to join.
LONDON: Passengers arriving at London's Heathrow Airport had to queue at passport control for up to two-and-a-half hours in July, official figures showed, sparking further criticism from aviation chiefs about delays caused by Britain's border regime.
The Border Force missed its 45-minute or less target for passport check wait times for 95 per cent of visitors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) on all but one day last month, according to the data obtained by UK-based airline Virgin Atlantic.
Queues were longest on Jul 6 when non-EEA visitors had to wait for up to two hours and 36 minutes at Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport.
The boss of Virgin Atlantic called the queue times "unacceptable", adding to criticism from the chief executive of British Airways, who said last week that Heathrow's queues were worse than at other major world airports.
"We all agree that security and safety at our airports (are) vital and remains our top priority, but other countries are managing their borders more effectively," Virgin Atlantic's chief executive Craig Kreeger said in a statement on Monday (Aug 13).
Britain's interior ministry, responsible for Border Force operations, said it was deploying 200 additional staff at Heathrow this summer, who would all be in place during peak travel periods in August and September.
It said in a statement that it would not compromise on border checks and was working to reduce waiting times.
Heathrow Airport's chief executive John Holland-Kaye last week called on the Home Office to let visitors from low risk countries such as the US use the electronic passport gates which currently are only open to EEA visitors.
MADRID: Hundreds of people were hurt, five seriously, when a wooden platform collapsed at a seaside music festival in northwestern Spain on Sunday night (Aug 12), state television RTVE reported.
There were no reports of any fatalities from the incident which broadcaster Radio Galega said left 266 people injured at the O Marisquino festival in Vigo, a town in the Galicia region.
Vigo's mayor Abel Caballero said the platform that collapsed just before midnight was 30 metres long and 10 metres wide.
"There were loads, I mean loads of people" on the boardwalk, one witness told reporters.
KUALA LUMPUR: Airline companies are free to choose the Syariah-compliant uniforms for their flight attendants provided that they meet the safety standard set by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), said Malaysia's Deputy Transport Minister Kamarudin Jaffar on Wednesday (Aug 8).
In order to secure a CAAM safety certificate, the airline must ensure that uniforms worn by the flight crew would enable them to carry out safety procedures in a set period.
“The airlines are free to choose uniforms as long as they can carry out their duties during emergency evacuation within the period set by CAAM and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
“The airline’s commercial decisions are based on their respective suitability and corporate image,” he in Parliament.
Kamarudin was answering a question posed by Ahmad Marzuk Shaary, a Member of Parliament from the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
Ahmad Marzuk wanted to know if the uniforms worn by Malaysian Airlines stewardesses were in accordance with the image of Malaysia which practices Islam as the official religion.
Kamarudin said the kebaya uniform worn by the staff reflect the local culture and is in line with the "Malaysian hospitality" theme practised by the company.
Responding to a supplementary question from Ahmad Marzuk, who was urging the government to play its role in the aspect of Syariah-compliant uniforms, Kamarudin said his ministry would be working with relevant departments to continue the efforts.
“Give chance to the Pakatan Harapan government through the Transport Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Department to continue this efforts (pertaining to Syariah-compliant uniforms),” he said.
On Aug 1, Transport Minister Anthony Loke responded to a suggestion by PAS MP Che Abdullah Mat Nawi, who said that the stewardess uniform of a certain airline was sexy.
"The matter is subjective ... if it is sexy, don't look at the stewardess," Loke said.
SINGAPORE: A police report has been filed against a former director of a local debate programme after he allegedly engaged in a "physical sexual encounter" with a female student who is a minor.
The man, who founded a programme called Debate Development Initiative (DDI), also allegedly pressured the student into sending explicit photos of herself via WhatsApp, and engaged students in discussions of a sexual nature, the Debate Association (Singapore) said in a statement on Tuesday (Aug 7).
DDI was created to provide "developmental exposure" to young school debaters, the association said. The programme, which takes in 15 to 17 students annually, has gone through six cycles since its inception in 2012.
A director was tasked with interviewing and selecting members, as well as coordinating and conducting training, among other things. The programme founder was designated as the first director, holding the position from 2012 to 2014.
According to the association, allegations against the former director surfaced in a review of the programme conducted by the executive committee. Two senior members of the debate community were then appointed to conduct an independent audit of the programme and interview former members.
On top of criticism about the DDI's structure and operation, interviewees from the first two cycles also made "disturbing allegations of misconduct" against the director.
DDI members used a central WhatsApp chat group to arrange training sessions and participation in competitions. The director was part of the group.
He also moderated a separate chat group named DDI Darkness, which comprised some members from Cycles 1 and 2. The report found that a number of comments made in this chat group were sexual in nature and included discussions about sexual acts and preferences, as well as the sexual history of chat participants.
"These comments were initiated by the DDI director, who also led discussions on the objectification of DDI members who were minors," according to the Debate Singapore statement.
Photos of DDI members would surface in this chat and there would be comments on physical characteristics, including genitalia, it added.
"One DDI member reported that these comments later continued in a private chat with the DDI director. In July 2014, the DDI director shared explicit pictures of himself in this private chat and pressured the member to reciprocate by sending similar photos.
"This continued until the end of 2014, where it culminated in a physical sexual encounter initiated by the director," said the association.
The names of those involved were not disclosed in the statement "so as not to interfere with ongoing investigations or potential legal proceedings". Meanwhile, the Debate Development Initiative has been "shut down with immediate effect".
In a post uploaded to the Facebook group Singapore Debaters, the executive committee said: "If you are harassed or made to feel uncomfortable by an individual within the community, no matter how prominent they may be, do not hesitate to come forward.
"All reports made by the equity committee will be confidential and each case will be treated with the utmost care and sensitivity."
The police confirmed a report was lodged and that they are looking into the matter.