Go­ing Global

Eyal Levy thought Yogibo would be big in Ja­pan. How could he best ex­pand the brand?

Inc. (USA) - - DEPARTMENTS CONTENTS - —LEIGH BUCHANAN

The founder of Yogibo thought his lov­able chairs would be big in Ja­pan. All he needed was a way to get into that mar­ket

four years build­ing Nashua, New Hampshire–based Yogibo into a suc­cess­ful fun-and-friendly lifestyle brand cen­tered on its body-hug­ging bean­bag chairs. The Ja­panese mar­ket tempted him. How could he ex­pand there?

“You want a sim­ple model when things are un­fa­mil­iar,” says Levy. Fran­chis­ing stores would pro­vide the ex­pe­ri­ence Yogibo was known for. But Levy was daunted by the prospect of com­ply­ing with lo­cal fran­chise laws and mon­i­tor­ing dis­tant op­er­a­tions. The key was find­ing a lo­cal distrib­u­tor he trusted. To de­ter all but the most com­mit­ted, Levy low­ered sales es­ti­mates and em­pha­sized chal­lenges. Af­ter find­ing a good can­di­date, Levy spent months get­ting to know him.

The cho­sen distrib­u­tor was the owner of an e-com­merce busi­ness—but Levy knew on­line alone wouldn’t cut it. He’d tried that route when Yogibo launched, and soon learned that his prod­uct’s ap­peal was tac­tile. Cus­tomers fell for the chairs by scrooching into them. They also needed a demon­stra­tion to un­der­stand the prod­uct. E-com­merce pro­vided nei­ther.

THE STRAT­EGY

Levy suc­ceeded in the U.S. with a model com­bin­ing brick-and-mor­tar out­lets, e-com­merce, sales at events and fes­ti­vals, and—chiefly for ac­ces­sories—whole­sale. “There’s a per­fect syn­ergy among all these chan­nels,” says Levy, who in­sisted on pur­su­ing all four in Ja­pan.

The as­pir­ing part­ner agreed. Levy quickly ac­cepted sev­eral changes de­sired by that distrib­u­tor: adding gift-wrap ser­vices and cre­at­ing a busier web­site, both ubiq­ui­tous in Ja­pan. The distrib­u­tor also pushed for pop-up stores. At first, “I did not buy it,” says Levy, fear­ing he’d down­scale the brand. But then he vis­ited Ja­panese malls and saw pop-ups from the blue-chip likes of Lego and Nike.

Another con­cern: Pop-ups are smaller than stores and don’t carry in­ven­tory, so cus­tomers can’t walk out with bean­bags. But Levy learned that Ja­panese cus­tomers pre­fer to have their prod­ucts shipped. Also, Levy re­al­ized, with reg­u­lar stores “the staff has to wait un­til cus­tomers walk in­side to ap­proach them,” he says. “With a pop-up, you can smile, and kind of pull them in.”

To­day, Ja­panese sales ac­count for 15 per­cent of Yogibo’s rev­enue—which should top $20 mil­lion this year—with min­i­mal strain. Levy has du­pli­cated the strat­egy in Canada, Kuwait, and South Korea: the same rig­or­ous re­cruit­ment, the same con­tracts, the same slightly re­laxed at­ti­tude to­ward con­sis­tency. “Learn­ing the specifics of ev­ery mar­ket is not fea­si­ble for a com­pany our size,” he says. “Find­ing the right per­son who will take our whole model and lo­cal­ize it is the key.”

SINK­ING FEEL­ING

A Yogibo bean­bag chair in ac­tion. Its play­ful and un­usual shape in­vites a cus­tomer to try it out be­fore buy­ing.

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