Sense of Crisis Creating New Opportunities

Posted by Jim Ivanoff
June 1st, 2009

I spent most of last week visiting clients around Tokyo and Kansai to promote this year's GBM. Despite meeting with a wide variety of companies, a common theme of developing new business emerged in almost all of my discussions.

HokkaidoCrab The first event was a casual get-together of interior designers and supplier companies in Tokyo. It is a regularly held event to share information and enjoy good food (this time it was fresh crab flown in from Hokkaido). Much of the talk during the evening was about how to overcome the current market weakness while also preparing for the inevitable long-term drop in Japanese housing starts as the population shrank. 

The managing director of the leading curtain rail firm in Japan said that as they already had an overwhelming share of the market, their only hope was that buyers would turn to larger homes in the future as land prices fell and thus have more windows needing curtains. Other manufacturers talked about exporting or beginning to handle new products (several seemed interested in CND flooring as an option!) Fittingly, I was invited to this event by the building products distributor who recently decided to begin handling CND kitchens.

I also spent some time in the Kansai region and heard similar plans. One of our clients told me of his plans to have a new showroom/cafe open by the summer. His idea is to have it in a central location where booth professionals and end-users can easily come to see his products while also promoting new concepts in interior design with CND products. Just leaning samples against the wall is no longer good enough.

Another importer in the region is in the process of setting up a new subsidiary to market house packages and high-end finishing materials right to end-users. While this may conflict with their business of supplying local builders, they feel that many builders have succumbed to price-only promotion and thus do not put much effort into selling more expensive products. Thus, they feel like they need to be talking directly to end-users and showing the benefits of their products.

Rainbow Of course the companies that are making these investments into new business ventures are the ones with strength to survive the current downturn anyway. However, they really do see this as an opportunity to get ahead of their competition and grow once the economy recovers. In this sense, it really reminded me of a picture I took last month of a double rainbow over Tokyo. Even on a dark and nasty day, there could be such a wonderful sight as long as you are willing to go outside to look for it.
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