WIN­NING OVER JA­PAN

Ketz-Ke Feels the love in toKyo

Exporter - - FRONT PAGE - By Glenn Baker.

Jenny Drury has ex­pe­ri­enced first­hand the roller-coaster highs and lows of ex­port fash­ion. Two years ago her Ketz-ke fash­ion la­bel, which tar­gets 18 to 45 year old women, was sell­ing in 278 stores across the US. How­ever, deal­ing through their ini­tial third party dis­trib­u­tor proved too hard – with stor­age charges, poor debt collection and other over­heads “gob­bling up” pre­cious prof­its. She even­tu­ally found dis­trib­u­tors who could take on debt collection, but that proved to be only a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion.

“It is hard to find dis­trib­u­tors in the US at the mo­ment will­ing to take on that debt prob­lem,” Drury says; we’re sit­ting in her sea­side Mil­ford home which also dou­bles as an of­fice and dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre. “Ev­ery­one wants to get com­mis­sion for sell­ing your prod­uct, but no­body wants to be your dis­trib­u­tor.”

The US is, for now, in the toohard bas­ket, but Ketz-ke is still man­ag­ing to gain over­seas mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion. Launched in 2008, the la­bel is cur­rently stocked in 90 stores across New Zealand, as well as in Aus­tralia, Raro­tonga, Ja­pan, and China (where she has a part­ner­ship with her man­u­fac­turer and her cloth­ing is cus­tomised for Chi­nese fash­ion pref­er­ences).

Aus­tralia is a well-worn path for fledg­ling Kiwi fash­ion la­bels – so you may be won­der­ing how the big leap to Ja­pan came about?

Drury says it all started by ‘googling’ con­tacts in Ja­pan, tar­get­ing people who were al­ready dis­tribut­ing sim­i­lar la­bels to Ketz-ke and invit­ing them by email to check out her web­site.

She even­tu­ally found one who was in­ter­ested and flew over in 2012 for a meet­ing.

As it turned out, the meet­ing didn’t get off to a very good start be­cause Drury’s taxi driver had dif­fi­culty find­ing the right ad­dress (not all street signs are in English). “Even when we found the right build­ing there was no num­ber­ing sys­tem. It took us around an hour to ne­go­ti­ate all the lit­tle nooks and cran­nies to find the right of­fice.”

The les­son here? Al­ways have

ad­dresses writ­ten down in the lo­cal lan­guage.

There was also a ma­jor lan­guage bar­rier at the meet­ing it­self.

“It’s hard ini­tially to get your per­son­al­ity across,” she re­calls. “The owner spoke no English and so I had to speak through the com­pany’s sales rep.”

De­spite the lan­guage bar­rier, the meet­ing proved fruit­ful. Drury be­lieves the aware­ness and love the Ja­panese have for New Zealand had a lot to do with her suc­cess­ful re­cep­tion.

Ketz-ke’s foray into the Ja­panese mar­ket will be in small steps, she says. “A bit like the way I started my busi­ness in New Zealand.”

For­tu­nately the Ja­panese are very loyal; it’s in their cul­ture, she says.

Indies first

Drury’s Ja­panese dis­trib­u­tor put her la­bel into Tokyo’s hottest fash­ion districts, and next on the radar will be the depart­ment stores. “The strat­egy when launch­ing our fash­ion la­bel is to get into the in­de­pen­dent stores first; get all the sys­tems set up and run­ning; and then tar­get the depart­ment stores.”

The Ja­panese only buy two sizes: S and XS – and her gar­ments suit Ja­panese women per­fectly, Drury in­forms me. “The Ja­panese are very fash­ion-savvy; they love asym­met­ric, over­sized gar­ments, and they have sim­i­lar colour and style taste to us,” she says. “They’re more re­laxed than the Chi­nese in their style – and while older women may be more so­phis­ti­cated, younger Ja­panese girls are fash­ion lead­ers."

While there are ex­cep­tional fash­ion de­sign­ers based in Ja­pan, Drury says the Ja­panese love the ‘New Zealand­de­signed as­pect’ of her cloth­ing. Truth be told, that’s the point of dif­fer­ence in suc­cess­fully build­ing her brand there, she says. “That’s why I have to go over there so of­ten, they even love to hear the way I speak,” she laughs.

“But that aside, they love the fact that Ketz-ke gar­ments suit the cli­mate of both coun­tries.”

Fash­ion is in­creas­ingly a ‘transsea­sonal’ in­dus­try, she points out, and with the Ja­panese mar­ket in the North­ern Hemi­sphere, it means their sea­sonal buy­ing cy­cle runs six months be­hind New Zealand’s. Ship­ping her cloth­ing from the Chi­nese fac­tory

“The aware­ness and love the Ja­panese have for New Zealand had a lot to do with [Ketz-ke’s] suc­cess­ful re­cep­tion.”

to the Ja­panese mar­ket is an easy process to man­age, and Drury can see the day when she’ll also ship to other Asian mar­kets, such as South Korea.

How­ever, with an air­line pi­lot hus­band and a son, plus her ‘hand­son’, in-con­trol ap­proach to busi­ness there’s not enough time or de­sire for ‘global dom­i­na­tion’. Be­tween the busi­ness and her home com­mit­ments Drury more than has her hands full. “I’m in­volved in ev­ery as­pect of my busi­ness; from ac­counts to de­sign to despatch,” she says.

Her team in­cludes two full-time staff, sis­ter Brenda who as­sists with de­sign, and sev­eral part timers when it gets busy.

Per­sis­tence pays

Just like the US mar­ket, Drury says the Ja­panese mar­ket re­quires per­sis­tent ef­fort to crack. It’s a chal­lenge work­ing through an in­ter­preter, and dif­fi­cult speak­ing by phone, so she’s had to rely on email for the bulk of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with her dis­trib­u­tor. Un­like the Aus­tralians who can take three days to re­spond to an email, she finds the Ja­panese are al­ways quick to hit the re­ply but­ton – their ef­fi­ciency lev­els are right up there, she says.

Drury says she’s es­tab­lished her brand in Ja­pan to­tally through her own ef­forts, but has since re­ceived a num­ber of of­fers of as­sis­tance, pri­mar­ily via the Ketz-ke Face­book site.

Her big­gest les­son to pass on? Be pa­tient and the re­wards will come. “You can’t be too im­pa­tient tak­ing on Ja­pan, and it does all come down to get­ting that right con­tact in the first place,” she says.

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