Japan's Don Quijote comes to town!
April 23, 2021
Japan’s biggest discount chain retailer, Don Quijote Holdings Co.,Ltd (named after Miguel Cervantes’s Don Quijote of La Mancha) has come to town with its first outlet at YTL Corporation’s Lot 10, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. That corner at Jalan Bukit Bintang where the MRT station is located will never be the same again. The exit/ entrance to the MRT station directly faces Don Don Donki. The discount chain store occupies three floors of Lot 10.
In Japan there are more 360 Don Quijote discount chain stores (including 138 Mega Don Quijote stores). The Japanese call it Donki in short – not “donkey” but “don ki” as an abbreviated name for the full Spanish original name “Don Quijote” pronounced as “Don Ki ho tay.” In Spanish “j” is pronounced as “h” (so hahaha is written as jajaja). “Don” is an honorific title because in the globally renowned novel Don Quijote of La Mancha (1605), the hero is a 50 year old gentleman of Spanish nobility, albeit of a lower rank one. The novel has been translated to more than 60 languages and is said to be the second most read book after the Bible. “Quijote” is also spelled as “Quixote”. The official mascot of Don Quijote is Donpen, a blue penguin. Donpen is the shortened version of Don Quijote Penguin. On 1 July 2020, Don Quijote celebrated its 31st anniversary from the opening of its first discount store.
Why would a Japanese company name itself after a Spanish novel’s protagonist?
Founder – Takao Yasuda
Takao Yasuda, founding Chairman of Don Quijote Holdings Co., Ltd, was a law graduate of Keio University, Japan. He had an adventurous spirit and did not find law practice fulfilling. So he decided to open a small discount shop in 1978 even though he had no retail experience. Takao Yasuda loved reading about Don Quijote’s adventures. There is a part of that spirit of Don Quijote in him, to defy conventions bravely and resolutely despite people raising their eyebrows. He was very sure he did not want to open just another Japanese retail chain store. It was perhaps The Impossible Dream (the popular song from the movie Man from La Mancha) at that time but Takao Yasuda has shown the world that his impossible dream came true. How did he start his first discount store?
Takao Yasuda scouted for discontinued models and samples that manufacturers and dealers had taken off their shelves. He bought them at a cheap price to display and sell as bargain offers in his shop Dorobo-ichiba. People loved the bargain hunting at Dorobo-ichiba because there were always new offerings when the limited stock of discontinued models sold out. That spurred Takao Yasuda to enter big time into discount retailing. The first Don Quijote discount store was established in 1989 in Fuchu, Tokyo. Today, Don Quijote is the biggest discount store operator in Japan. It has been on a growth trajectory since it began and has made money every year of its existence. The maverick retailer has proven to the establishment that you can enjoy what you do best and succeed against all odds.
Don Quijote Holdings has rebranded itself as Pan Pacific International Holdings Corporation (PPIH) in February 2019. It has expanded out of Japan into the United States, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and now Malaysia. Its entry into the USA was via the acquisition of the US operations of Japan's Daiei’s stores in 2006. In Asia, the first Don Don Donki store was set up in 2017 at Orchard Road, Singapore. By the end of 2021 there will be 11 Don Don Donkis in the island republic. Don Don Donki opened in Bangkok, Thailand at the Donki Mall in February 2019. In Hong Kong, the first Don Don Donki store opened in July 2019 at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Mira Place. It is now expanding into its 5th outlet.
Takao Yasuda wants to expand Don Don Donki across Southeast Asia. His bubbly and youthful enthusiasm is magnetic for anyone who meets him in person. As founding Chairman and Supreme Advisor of PPIH, he guides President CEO of PPIH, Naoki Yoshida, to steer the Don Don Donki ship.
- The Japan Times. 1 January 2004. Taiga Uranaka. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2004/01/01/business/founder-of-don-quijote-empire-revels-in-breaking-all-the-rules/
- CNBC. 22 November 2019. Christine Tan. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/22/cnbc-transcript-takao-yasuda-founding-chairman-pan-pacific-international-holdings-founder-don-quijote-and-don-don-donki.html
- The Straits Times. 18 December 2017. Ankita Varma. The Life Interview with Don Quijote founder Takao Yasuda: Boss of bargains. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/boss-of-bargains
- Pan Pacific International Holdings Corporation. Message from the Founder. Takao Yasuda. The Corporate Philosophy of PPIH Group. Our Origin story. The Founding Spirit. https://ppih.co.jp/en/corp/founder/
- The Business Times. 15 April 2019. Lynette Tan. https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/companies-markets/don-don-donki-not-fazed-by-tight-labour-pricey-rentals-here
- Nikkei Asia. 26 April 2019. Akane Okutsu. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Company-in-focus/Japan-s-Don-Quijote-exports-retail-jungles-in-age-of-Amazon
- What is Jonetsu Kakaku?. www.donki.com
- Nikkei Asia. 26 September 2020. Marimi Mishimoto, Shohei Kono and Kento Igami. Japan's Don Quijote on quest to fill retail void in Southeast Asia. Japan's Don Quijote on quest to fill retail void in Southeast Asia - Nikkei Asia