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Formerly known as JUSCO, here's a look back at Japanese retail giant AEON's history in M'sia

By now, most of you probably know that AEON CO. (M) BHD (AEON) is actually a Japanese brand that expanded into Malaysia. But did you know that its roots in Malaysia can be traced back to an invitation from our government?

AEON’s entry into the local retail market was part of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Look East policy in 1984. The goal was for AEON to help modernise the country’s retail industry.

For context, the Look East policy aims at developing the social and economic sectors in Malaysia through learning from Japan. This includes sending over 26,000 Malaysian youths to study and train in Japan.

But first, how and why was AEON established?

A trip that sparked a fiery determination

It started as a dream when Japanese businessman, Takuya Okada, travelled to the US. He was looking for inspiration to improve his mid-sized retail business back home.

Then a lightbulb moment hit him whilst he was in awe of the large-scale retail chains that dominated the Western country. Hopeful, he returned and shared the idea with Kazuchi Futagi and Jiro Inoue, both owners of their own mid-sized retail businesses.

And he gave them a proposal—to join forces and create a massive conglomerate that provided their Japanese consumers with the best value, products, and services.

So in 1969 in Japan, the three founders came together and launched the Japan United Stores Company, or JUSCO for short. They dubbed it the “merger of hearts”.

To expand their offerings, the company partnered with businesses all over Japan. And not long after that, JUSCO grew to become a nationwide and then international chain.

Accepting the Malaysian government’s invitation, AEON (then called Jaya JUSCO Stores Sdn Bhd) was set up here the following year. The first store was opened in the Dayabumi building in KL. 

The expansion took some time, with new outlets only opening every couple of years. But soon, by 1996, the brand established itself as a notable company and was listed on the Main Board of the KLSE (now known as Bursa Malaysia).

There were only six Malaysian branches under its belt at the time, including JUSCO Bandar Baru Klang and JUSCO Melaka, according to its website.

How did it go from being Jaya JUSCO to AEON?

The company name JUSCO was officially changed to AEON CO. (M) BHD in 2004. But at the time, the retail store name of JUSCO was still retained.

It wasn’t until the year 2012 that the company formally switched its stores’ name to AEON in Malaysia as part of a rebranding exercise.

A new tagline, “AEON enriching your lifestyle”, was also introduced to the masses. According to reports, this was part of the company’s strategy to standardise its corporate identity, which makes sense.

This rebranding didn’t only affect the names of its supermarkets and shopping malls, but all of the other organisations operating in Malaysia under Jaya JUSCO back then.

This includes AEON BiG (M) Sdn Bhd, AEON Credit Service (M) Bhd, AEON Delight Sdn Bhd, AEON Fantasy (M) Sdn Bhd, AEON TopValu (M) Sdn Bhd, AEON Global Supply Chain Sdn Bhd, and AEON Malaysia Foundation.

According to The Edge, an estimated sum of RM15 million was set aside to move away from the JUSCO brand to what it’s now known as today. Though, the official amount actually spent was never announced.

In that same year, AEON Co. Ltd. (the main Japanese parent company) acquired the Malaysian arm of French retailer, Carrefour, for 15.1 billion yen. The acquisition was funded by existing cash in hand and boosted the company’s ranking from third to Malaysia’s second largest retailer.

That’s how AEON BiG Malaysia came to be, as all of Carrefour’s Malaysian stores were rebranded to further formalise the new ownership.

A couple years later, there was talk that AEON Co. Ltd. was eyeing to acquire Tesco Malaysia, which was valued at about GB£900 million pounds. But that plan didn’t come to fruition.

It’s more than just a retail store brand today

Over the years, AEON has grown into more than just a retail company or shopping mall. And it’s not just merely known as a lifestyle destination anymore.

Some of its subsidiary brands have made a name for themselves, like AEON Credit Service (M) Bhd. Since 2003, it has been offering customers a Syariah-compliant Personal Financing Scheme.

But more recently, the brand has formed a joint venture with another subsidiary, AEON Financial Service Co. Ltd., to undertake the business of a digital Islamic bank.

The joint venture company called ACS Digital Bhd was incorporated by AEON Credit Service (M) Bhd last year. Its operations will reportedly start within 24 months from April 8, 2022.

Besides that, it was also reported that AEON Co. Ltd. had entered into a conditional Sale and Purchase Agreement with Liziz Standaco Sdn. Bhd. The reason? To acquire 8.691 hectares of commercial land in that AEON Mall Kota Bharu now sits on.

It’s said that this would allow AEON to have better control over the property without worrying about the lease’s expirations, thereby letting its operations run smoother.

This news came shortly before it was announced that AEON’s shopping mall in Sunway Pyramid would be closing after 16 years.

To date, the general merchandise store cum supermarket chain has about 35 AEON Stores and 28 AEON Malls. However, some of these numbers may be outdated as the Sunway Pyramid outlet is still listed on its store locator at the time of writing.

There are also 21 AEON BiG, 8 AEON MaxValu, 62 AEON Wellness, and 42 Daiso across the country, according to its website.

So in a way, despite the occasional store closures, I would say AEON CO. (M) BHD seems to be continuing exactly what it came here to do—aid in the development of our economic sectors.

Learn more about AEON here.Read articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Also ReadSMEs, this 2-day KL conference will reveal strategies on how you can use AI for your biz

Featured Image Credit: Wiki Commons

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