Let me get this out of the way: I have no connection whatsoever to Big Island Candies. They are not a client nor do they (or anyone) advertise on my blog. But I am an occasional consumer of their treats. And as a finicky customer from the Japan tradition, I think they are the cream of the cream when it comes to serving the Japanese visitor market. (And if you can satisfy the Japanese, you can satisfy anyone.) BIC has crafted a product and shopping experience that Japanese customers absolutely love. Some of BIC’s “secrets” to success include:
- A high quality product (this is a “given” just to be in the game)
- A product positioned as local meibutsu, “made in Hilo” (meibutsu is defined as a famous local product, often a delicacy; meibutsu make the best souvenirs)
- A BIC employee hands you coffee and a cookie when you walk in the door. How can you not feel good? (I always grin.) This is a smart move when dealing with Japanese customers because their Confucian system of reciprocal obligations almost guarantees that they’ll buy something (i.e.; Japanese feel obligated to “reciprocate” the gift received by buying lots of goodies.)
- The layout and decor are aesthetically beautiful, the gift wrapping exquisite; they’ve even partnered with Sig Zane to design some of their packaging (Japanese culture places high value on beauty, a legacy of their Shinto and Buddhist traditions)
- The store is well lit and sparkles; the shiny kitchen is openly displayed beyond the big glass windows (Japanese love cleanliness, a legacy from their Shinto tradition)
- On busy days every aisle has a Japanese/bilingual person available to answer questions
- Employees provide great service: when the check-out lines start getting busy BIC employees quickly open another register so customers can be checked out quickly and efficiently
- BIC candy and cookies use just the right amount of sugar (not as sweet as most American candy/cookies)–the Japanese think BIC’s products have the right level of sweetness
- BIC is set up to ship product anywhere in the world, a big help for Japanese who have too much omiyage to drag home anyway.
Success isn’t random. It comes from making smart business choices. Hats off to management and staff at BIC. Your business model and Japan savvy are second to none.
How often do I shop at BIC? Don’t do it too much for personal consumption. (Hey, dem treats are pricey!) But when I need to find a gift for a Japanese friend or client, BIC cookies are the ideal omiyage.
Now let’s just hope the cookie-making business is sustainable…
Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2009