Having undertaken research on the relevant market segment in Japan, and decided a closer look at that market is worthwhile, the time has arrived for the prospective exporter to prepare for a trip there. It’s essential to see first-hand what exists in Japan in the product segment in question, made locally and imported. This trip is best undertaken by one of the following:
- the owner or chief executive of the business, or an appropriately senior person, especially someone already involved in export.
- a person in the company who will have this project as part of his or her ongoing duties . an external specialist.
A prospective business partner in Japan, with whom contact may have already been made through initial inquiries to JETRO, Austrade, or some other home government body, should not be used for this purpose, as they may perhaps be not fully impartial. Following are four points to consider about a trip to Japan:
What to take
In case there will be a chance to meet prospective customers or partners, trip preparations should include putting together information about your company and its product range, in presentations such as brochures, catalogues, colour photos, or power point presentation from your laptop computer. It’s preferable all written material be presented bilingually, or there be a separate translation. The following information should be included:
- the origins of the company, when and by whom it was established.
- the company’s trading history, any high profile customers, export experience elsewhere.
- key personnel, their experience and skills.
- all product information, such as catalogues and brochures, plus price lists.
- all relevant terms of business, such as any minimum or maximum lots, how long delivery can be expected to take, payment terms.
- business cards, with Japanese and English on reverse sides.
Accompanying this printed material should be selected samples of the products, which should be no different from products that would comprise any orders the company might subsequently receive. Through this promotional material and samples, ideally there will be a full representation of all the products available for ordering – all sizes, colours, designs, ingredients, whatever.
Who to meet
An important part of the trip preparations are arrangements that can be secured, such as through JETRO, to meet prospective business associates in Japan. Through JETRO, it might be from their listings of Japanese companies interested in import. Through Austrade or the like, communication to one or more of their Japan offices might also have uncovered companies looking to import. Any such companies may offer the prospect of ultimately becoming a business partner, such as an importer, distributor, wholesaler or retailer. It would certainly be appropriate to meet them on this first trip to Japan.
If there aren’t any such businesses to meet on this occasion, the person making the trip should still definitely plan to meet with one or more Trade Commissioner/Consul, and visit the nearest JETRO office, through prior appointments. Personnel at these offices can arrange meetings with retail representatives, such as shop owners, department store buyers, and any other people considered important in the process of ultimately gaining access to the market.
Importantly also, both Austrade and JETRO (through their Business Support Centers) can offer the visitor free office space. At JETRO a visitor can literally set up office for days, even weeks, whilst also receiving help from JETRO’s export advisers. This kind of setup can be a lot more convenient and beneficial than hotel rooms, and create a better impression on any locals to be met.
What to look for and where to go
The visiting exporter should seek out any retail outlets, both individual shops and department stores, where it’s likely similar products will be on sale, and where the exporter would also like its products to be on sale. If the product or service is not aimed at the retail sector, arrangements can still be made for meetings with organisations that would have a use for it. The local JETRO (and Austrade for Australians) offices can help find them, and perhaps act as a guide around the city.
Depending on the product, other places might be worth seeking out, as well as people in the street, television and magazines, to get additional information. This searching around may lead to shops, department stores, factories, offices, government departments, anywhere, preferably accompanied by an interpreter. Everything that is of relevance to the product segment should be looked at carefully, including:
- styles and designs
- fabric, if it’s clothing or furnishing
- ingredients, if it’s food
- packaging, with regard to style, size and kind
- the kind of outlet where the products are on sale
- the kinds of customers buying them – talk to customers and sales assistants, show them samples and seek feedback, listen to their comments and ideas.
To assist in the process of learning more about Japan, the visitor might try to obtain an English language newspaper each day, to keep up with the latest news and current events.
For a country with a large population, Japan can at times exhibit a surprising lack of diversity. The pressure to conform, do things and present products in the same way is strong. What the prospective exporter is looking for is a niche in the market, a way of doing things or a kind of product not there, which it has experience with and can supply at an appropriate price. Outsiders can look at existing services and products with fresh eyes, can detect an opportunity. Essentially though, a good knowledge and understanding of the local scene in Japan must first be acquired.
What to bring back
Where applicable, the trip should be treated as a buying spree, to bring back and closely look at any products that are similar or otherwise interesting, and from which useful information and ideas might be gained, taking into account such aspects as size, quality, and any other relevant features. These samples should be looked at to ascertain how goods presently in Japan can be improved on, how an edge on price and value for money can be gained, what designs or styles are not yet catered for in Japan, what cannot be produced on a competitive cost basis, and any points of differentiation that can be offered.