Today it is “Interview Wednesday” again. Saul H. Fleischman has created his own company “OsakaBentures” with the focus on either supporting companies to gain better access to the Japanese market, or then the other way round Japanese companies to get a better foothold of the global market. His services are available not only to larger companies, but as well he knows to support smaller niche players. Saul definitely understands the challenge that companies naturally sense, when entrusting sensitive business information to an off-site contracted person. Moreover his company becomes even more attractive to hire, because he can offer services for only a few hours per week and therefore companies do not need the heavy first investment to make a difference related to Japan.
Sibylle Ito: What do you see as the top mistakes foreign companies do while trying to enter Japan?
Saul H. Fleischman : Many assume “people are people,” and expect to win market-share in Japan without changing their packaging. Easy solutions include colors, inner layers of packaging – since for Japan, particularly with food/beverage/body goods, Japanese may be more likely to re-purchase products that seem cleaner. As for colors, they mean different things in different countries, and one does well to at least ask Japan-side contacts for opinions.
Finally, for a favorite example of mine, let’s consider Swiss (sorry, Sibylle!) chocolate bars. They are some of the best in the world, and always have been – but they are huge, hard to display with similarly-priced and target-market chocolate bars in Japan, and again, they always have been. Pity, maybe we would see Lindt, etc. in more stores, and they would surely yield more profits by selling one or two smaller bars for the Japan-market.
SI: Is it really necessary to have in Japan a “Japanese style of sales channels”? Isn’t the distributor network going away slowly, but surely?
SF: Well, you don’t have a Japanese sales channel yourself (your company, I mean), you get distributed thoroughly and rapidly by choosing an active and plugged-in distributor, and when you negotiate with them, ascertain that your line will not wallow in the pages of a catalog, but rather will be actively marketed. I am one to stipulate this when I negotiate for Japanese manufacturers that are in a position to choose between several distribution partners per country or region.
SI: Where do you see for the Japanese side the main challenges of becoming successful internationally?
SF: They still are getting nowhere with English and making little headway with foreign culture sensitivity. Then again, this is why I have been so handy to Japanese firms that see opportunities for sourcing products to import or have produced overseas (OEM), or to market overseas: they need foreign businesspeople like you and I do work with “the other side.”
SI: You are focusing quite strongly on Social Media. Do you see it efficiently used with Japanese companies compared to abroad? Do you have a favorite Japanese company?
SF: In fact, I still consider myself a student of social media. I think most of us who are strong with it should take this stance, though few do. I am most critical of groups and companies that run media events and bother to organize a uStream channel and a Twitter tag for a major event – but then don’t bother with the many, who try to interact remotely. I know this frustration is shared by many – who are not fortunate enough to be available (and in Tokyo, London, San Francisco, etc.) for the events there. So, while I have many favorite non-Japanese information blogs/sites, such as readwriteweb, techcrunch, and then favorite SNS, like LinkedIn and the groups I have created and continue to build in LinkedIn, I have many “unfavorite” companies due to how they fail to engage and rather “broadcast” self-promotional information feeds.
Thank you so much Saul for sharing your insight. It seems to me although with all the multi-media we have become more and more interconnected, but the challenges seem to stay the same: Not recognizing the difference of the Japanese market or then the challenge of Japanese doing business in English. For sure I wish you only the best that more great Japanese products become known abroad and being selfish, hopefully more Swiss chocolate becomes available in Japan.
More info in regard to Saul H. Fleischman can be found at
or then his company or then the LinkedIN profile
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)