Why Japanese Visitors Love Big Island Candies

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

5 responses to “Why Japanese Visitors Love Big Island Candies

  1. Aloha Tim! BIC is a sustainable, highly profitable business model because they have chosen not to be BOTH a direct to consumer retailer AND a wholesaler. They focus 100% on direct to consumer retailer whether at their showroom store or via their webstore. My guess is they do $7M+ per year in sales. Agree totaly that BIC is the #1 retailer in terms of doing it right for Japanese visitors in Hawaii (although Sig Zane is a close second). Good business model for other Big Island future business start-ups to follow.

  2. Thank goodness they’re sustainable; mankind would be hard-pressed to survive without cookies.🙂

    To your point about not being a wholesaler, it also enhances brand value because of its image as a producer of “local meibutsu”.

  3. Now how am I suppose to write a blog on the place!

    Pfft… good thing there is a copy and paste… LOL.

    I’m gonna write something about the place… took lots of pictures today.

    I still can’t figure out how 4 boxes of cookies came out to $75 + bucks!

    And it did seem like there were just as many locals in there as Japanese which surprised me.

  4. Sorry Damon!

    I actually wrote an article on BIC when I was writing a column for the HTJ newsletter. (They rejected it because they didn’t want to show favoritism to any particular business, which makes sense.) Then your email this morning inspired the piece today. Again, sorry for stealing your ‘tunder’!

    The way I see it, your follow up will visually enhance mine. (Hey, link me, link me!) Wonder if it’ll give BIC a bump in sales? (Your gazillion hits plus my 30 should do the trick! ;-))

  5. http://damontucker.com/2009/07/18/a-field-trip-to-big-island-candies-with-an-assist-from-the-intercultural-twilight-zone/

    I tried to plagiarize as much as possible.

    They certainly got a great gig going. I think their smartest move was when they actually moved into the building they did compared to the one they were in about a decade ago.

    My wife and I were having quite the battle on the phone over what types of cookies I should be getting for my friends on the mainland as she obviously has a “Japanese” palate and likes things not as sweet as I do.

    I went for the Caramel Shortbread for my family on the mainland… she chose Chocolate covered Squid legs (ika) and Isa/o Peanuts.

    Funny thing… while I was in there and talking to my wife on my cell phone… an older Japanese lady started talking to me trying to tell me what I should buy and not buy….

    She must have been 80 years old… but she sure knew the scoops on the place.

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