Three Things Hawaii’s Small Business Can Learn From Japan’s

I’ve bought eye glasses in Japan and the United States. From the outside, an eyewear store is an eyewear store. You see rows and rows of glasses. No difference there. But, when you go to try on a pair of glasses in the United States, they are, most likely, dusty and marked by fingerprints. You would never see that in Japan: each pair of glasses on the wall will be crystal clear, clean and looking like new. In fact, when you see an eyewear store in Japan with no customers in it, you will most likely see the staff going from pair to pair cleaning them.
I suspect that the owners of eyewear stores in the United States just don’t think consumers care if the floor samples are clean. Or, I wonder if they even considered the issue. Don’t know.
The glasses story illustrates how a small change in retail behavior could make a big change in customers’ perceptions. Here are three things I learned in Japan that could make a small or big difference in your business.

  1. Presentation matters. The glasses story illustrates this. Seldom will you see any dust in a store in Japan. Shopkeepers will constantly dust and clean if there are no customers present. One thing I have started doing is sweeping the area in front of my office at least twice a week. It just feels right to begin the day with no leaves, wrappers or dirt in front of my office. A restauranteur could certainly learn a lot from looking at the presentation of a fine sushi meal.
  2. First impressions. It’s quite a sight to see the first person entering a large retail establishment in the morning. You’ll often see the store manager and executives and a row of salespeople forming a greeting line and saying “irraimasse,” a “Welcome” greeting. You’ll even see the staff bowing, a sign of respect and gratitude. If I owned a store, the first minute of staff training would be on the importance of greeting the customer, every customer. An employee who stands in the back or checks email on a cell phone when there are customers in the store would not last very long.
  3. Long-term relationships. There are two gift-giving seasons in the Japan: summer and New Years. This is when a company will send, or better yet hand deliver, a box of cookies, sweets or some other item. If you get Hokkaido crab—worth a few hundred dollars—you know you are a VIP client, but most gifts are small items that might cost $30-$50. The point is to show appreciation to your customers/clients. It’s also a great time to remind them of you, your products and your services. Depending on the value of a client, small business owners in Hawaii might want to give gift certificates or some homemade cookies.

japanese tea ceremony
Business, in many ways, is similar to human relationships; that is, we all want to be recognized, valued and respected. Keeping a clean presentation, making a good first impression and focusing on fostering long-term relationships with customers and clients make good sense.
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