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A YEN FOR AMERICANA; AN IMPORT GROUP SAYS THERE'S STRONG DEMAND IN JAPAN FOR U.S. GOODS.

ATLANTA-American manufacturers, Japan wants you. That was the message from Japan's Manufactured Imports Promotion Organization (MIPRO), which is working to develop U.S. exports to small and midsized Japanese retailers and wholesalers.

"There is a huge demand in Japan for small-lot imports," said Kiyotaka Hishida, assistant director for planning and coordination for the group, speaking at a press conference here last week during the International Gift & Home Furnishings Market.

Opportunities are growing, he said, due to his country's rapidly changing retail milieu.

"We are an aging society," he said. "People are going back to central shopping." And Japanese consumers are hungry for products that reflect U.S. lifestyles and design, Hishida told HFN. Jiyugaoka, a retail district 30 minutes outside Tokyo, has at least 10 boutiques that sell only Americana, he said.

Small specialty stores opening in the suburbs are looking for direct imports and unique, niche products such as those offered at AmericasMart, said Hishida.

"The Japanese have previously looked to America for retail, business management and trends information, and to Europe for product," said George Lancaster, managing director for international business development at AmericasMart Atlanta, which is working closely with the group. "We're finally getting them to understand American-made and design that reflects America."

Today's access to Internet shopping, international credit cards, quick delivery systems and wireless technology are making exporting there much simpler.

"The age we live in makes all this possible," said Dale Minard, president of Smith-Dale, a manufacturers' representative that has been doing business with Japanese retailers for 13 years. "Japan is a very lucrative market, and it is a pleasure doing business with the Japanese. On the American side, we have to ingrain the idea in all companies that it is just as easy to ship to Japan as to Tennessee."

Other exhibitors at the market were also amenable.

"We would like nothing better than to cultivate the specialty retail business in Japan," said David Harman, president of Goodwin Weavers, which is exhibiting pillows and throws -- including licensed designs by American artist Thomas Kinkade -- at JapanTex next month in Tokyo.

"It's simple, and it's a nice business," said Ken Kline, president and chief executive officer of Victorian Heart Co., of his company's market in Japan for American-designed quilts, manufactured, ironically, in China and India. While Japanese buyers want the most traditional country looks, their shopping methods are definitely 21st century. After spending a lot of time perusing Victorian Heart's inventory of more than 90 designs on the company's Web site, the buyers fax orders directly to the company's call center. Kline noted, however, that the business remains small compared with the American market, and he said the growth of specialty shops in Japan is limited by what he called a "beehive mentality."

"The Japanese are hard workers," he said, "but they are not entrepreneurs."
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Author:Musselman, Faye
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Jan 22, 2001
Words:470
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