We had our first meeting on Friday with a retailer in Tokyo. We are the sole importer in Japan of one of the products on our online shop, and had been contacting suitable retailers and department stores for the last 3 months trying to get the chance to have a meeting and introduce the product.
Finally last week we had our first meeting with a potential customer, and to our excitement they showed a lot of interest and wanted to place an order!
Here are some tips based on our experience.
Tips for introducing products to retailers in Japan:
1. Find potential customers
Look for retail shops that would be interested in your product – if you don’t have any contacts in your industry, get out and about in Tokyo and search for shops that you think might be interested in your product. When you find a suitable candidate, the next step is to make contact with the buyer (the person who is actually the decision maker on what products the shop will sell in-store).
It is often difficult to find the contact details of the buyer on the company website – in our experience we found it most effective to go into the actual shop, explain to the shop staff that you import a product that you think the shop would be really interested in, and that you would like to introduce the product to the buyer. Ask the staff if they can tell you the name and phone number of the buyer. For us, this worked 100% of the time!
The staff in every store we went into had a piece of paper behind their counter that contained a list of the relevant company managers and their contact details. The staff would then write the name and phone number on a piece of paper or business card for me (if they don’t tell you the buyer’s name initially, make sure you politely ask for it!
Usually the phone number is not direct, so it makes it much easier if you know the buyer’s name so they can transfer your call to him/her easily).
2. Prepare yourself before calling
Prepare yourself before you call the buyer. You will need to speak in Japanese, so if you don’t have sufficient Japanese language capability, ask your business partner or a friend to make the call for you.
3. Call the buyer
Here are some points for when you call the buyer:
- Introduce yourself and ask to speak with the buyer
- When the call is transferred to the buyer, introduce yourself again. Explain that you were in their [location] shop and enquired to the staff about introducing your product, and the staff gave you his/her contact details.
- Give a short explanation about your company and the product you would like to introduce
- If the buyer shows interest in the product, offer to send more information by email. If the buyer agrees, ask for the buyer’s email address.
- Say thank you and that you will send them an email straight away.
- After you send your email, follow-up with a phone call to make sure the email arrived safely.
- If you don’t hear from the buyer after a few days, call again and ask if they are interested in meeting so you can introduce the product. If they agree to have a meeting, congratulations! See next step!
4. Confirm Meeting
If the buyer agrees to have a meeting with you to see the product, make sure you confirm all the details (date, time, location) of the meeting by email. The day before the meeting, send a short email that you are looking forward to meeting tomorrow – this is a polite way to confirm the meeting again, and also show your enthusiasm for meeting with them.
5. Prepare for Meeting
There are many points to consider before your meeting with the retailer.
- How will you carry the product to the meeting? In a bag or suitcase? For us, we had to travel on the train in peak hour, so in order to keep our product safe and easy to carry, we took a small business-style suitcase.
- How will you wrap the product? As you know, Japan LOVES wrapping gifts and products in multiple layers of packaging. We wanted to convey this image of high-quality and care for our products, while at the same time being environmentally friendly and not going too overboard with the wrapping. In the end we decided to wrap our products individually in white tissue-paper to make them look special (we didn’t use any tape or string so that we could open them easily and quickly).
- How will you make brochures/pamphlets about your company and products? We made powerpoint presentations in Japanese containing details of our company and products including photos and retail prices. We were considering to print the presentations on high quality paper at Kinkos, but our Japanese entrepreneur friend said he doesn’t print anything anymore. He said he just shows his presentations on his iPad. So that’s what we did! And it worked perfectly! The iPad gave a very professional touch, and we also saved time and money by not having to go to Kinkos and print everything out on paper. This also was excellent as it enabled us to make last minute changes to the presentations on the morning of the meeting. After the meeting, we sent a thank you email to the buyer and attached the PDF files of our presentations to the email.
- Who will lead the meeting? If you will attend the meeting with your business parter (s), make sure you decide in advance who will lead the meeting (preferably the person with highest Japanese language ability, or the person who knows the most about the product). This will ensure you look professional, confident and organised. Other duties in the meeting include writing notes and showing the products.
- Do you know the location of your meeting? As you know, Japan doesn’t have any street signs, so it can often be difficult to locate the street or the office building you are looking for. Even with an iPhone and google maps, it can sometimes be difficult! Make sure you arrive super early and confirm the location of the buyer’s office before your meeting. If you have any trouble, don’t be afraid to call the buyer on the phone and explain that you are lost and ask for help with directions. Usually people are very understanding in Japan about directions, especially for foreigners!
- Are there any labeling requirements or tests required on your product by Japanese law? Sometimes it may be okay for you sell your product on your online shop in Japan with a simple tag or label, but once you start distributing to retailers there are often many requirements regarding labeling and care instructions. Make sure you are up-to-date with the Japanese requirements for your product before your meeting with your potential customer.
- How much margin can you give the retailer? This may depend on the industry, but in our case we found the distributors usually list the prices of their products on their brochures as retail price (not wholesale price), in order to give them flexibility to adjust the wholesale price based on the volume ordered as well as their customers’ requirements. For example, if the customer is a big department store and wants to order large quantities of your product, you might offer them a lower wholesale price (and therefore give them a higher margin). Before you meet with the buyer, make sure you do all your calculations – how much margin are you willing to give the retailer, while still ensuring you make some profit for your company? How important is the retailer for your business and how eager are you to meet their requirements? For example, if this is your first big break, you might consider meeting the retailer’s requirements in terms of margin, even if it means little or no profit for your company at this stage. Think about the other benefits – if it is a well-known retailer, can you use this as a success story and gain valuable free PR for your product, which might help you with your other meetings with prospective buyers?
6. Good luck in the meeting!
Once you’ve done all your preparation, you are now ready for the meeting! Good luck!