When we first began, our store was on the second floor, above a convenience store, and so we knew selling shirts was going to be a challenge. But if one person decided to buy, I was sure that they would then boast about it to their friends, because they had just managed to buy something that would normally cost 12,000 or 15,000 yen at a department store for only 4,900 yen. I knew that a good buy was something you’d want to tell people about. The quality and price of the products even made me want to buy the shirts myself. A restaurant that is both delicious and cheap will always attract customers, no matter how difficult it might be to get to; I know, because I’m a glutton. Even if the store is on the second floor of a convenience store, somebody with a discerning eye will find us and shop with us. That one person will then become two people, and those two will become four and eight, and 16, 32, 64,128, 256…I hoped for the day that the store would be packed with customers.
We had no money so we couldn’t invest in advertising. Pleasing customers was of paramount importance and if we did have the money to use for advertising, I thought it best to invest that back into creating better shirts. That would please customers more.
How much profit do we need to make? How many do we need to sell? It seemed futile to set goals because there was no means to achieve them.
So what was there to do? The only thing we could do was to be polite and honest, serving customers with the deepest sincerity. I was sure that our attitude would be understood by our customers, who would then in turn become our fans and would bring in more customers.
“Service” is something that can be improved no matter how big (or small) the business is. The chance to improve is available equally, regardless of the company’s size. Although we did have the luck of being written about in ‘Hanako’, a women’s magazine, most of our patrons found us through word of mouth and then came back to us.
The price that we set for one shirt, 4,900 yen, would make the customers’ jaws drop because the quality for the price was astonishing. I set a price that made people feel like they would be missing out if they didn’t buy one. The selling price should be set at what the customers feel is acceptable, and should not be a pure reflection of production costs. It was my duty as a retailer to set the right price. Unfortunately, a small shirt store does not have the same means as a larger corporation to bring the cost of production down. But does that mean customers would take pity on us and buy our products, if we explained to them that we were unable to cut costs and that we’d set a high price to increase our profit?
No, absolutely not!
The purchasing cost that the store encountered does not matter to the customer. They want to know, more importantly, how much it will cost them.
Many a time I wished I were more successful, so that I could lower the price of the purchasing cost. But I couldn’t burden our customers with my own inability to lower the cost of production. It was not fair. The most important thing was that customers were happy to shop with us and that the number of happy customers would increase, even if there was no monetary profit from it immediately. The only thing we could do at the time was to believe that one day, there would be enough happy customers to make our small shirt store a profitable business.
I wanted to be a true merchant; someone who was true to his promises. I’d experienced the bad side of the business, where the purchasing retailer would always get the better deal, and take advantage of the factories who were trying to sell.
I wanted to change that. That’s when I decided to start my own business, where honesty and sincerity came before profit.