Why People Choose Your Service

 

In Tokyo last year opened a restaurant of which name is “Restaurant of Mistaken Orders.” All the servers working there are people living with dementia. According to their website, the servers may, or may not, get your order right. When I heard the news, I was so impressed. It’s not because I’m a good guy full of humanity but because it proves my marketing theory: People choose something not for its value but for its meaning.

Many marketers say differentiation is the key to success in business, but how? Now that the world is filled up with a lot of things, information, and services, it’s almost impossible to clearly differentiate something from others. Most people can’t tell such a small difference in quality and design. In the first place, as the Jam theory proves, people become overloaded with choice. I’m sure the quality and price of your service are excellent, but they’re not enough to differentiate you from others, because your competitors surviving in this difficult time would be as good as you.

 

Let me give you another example. A picture book was sold at two prices. The one at the higher price includes a donation for kids in need, and it sold much more than the cheaper one. Differentiation is no longer a determinant factor because it’s not value but meaning people want when buying something.

Why do your customers choose your service? I think it’s your personality, as it may sound like going against the times (diluting relations between people). Your customers want to pay to you. Having said that, I didn’t mean to appeal myself here but just hope you like the character or personality of our company: artisan-spirited, faithful, and eco-friendly.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

Interview with Michael Schneider vol.01

Product Design with the Times

It is said that we human beings will, for coming 100 years, experience the same amount of change as we had got through over the last 2,000 years. It’s not only about technological advancement but also about our mentality. People seem to be less interested in owning things (as shown in the rise of subscription and sharing business models), which may shrink economic activities. How should we manufacturers adapt? I threw this question at one of our product designers, Michael Schneider.

Michael Schneider:

I am affirmative on subscription and sharing business models because they will enable us to live our lives with less costs and pollution. We are living in times of saturated markets, global warming, and limited resources where we have to make sacrifices. Thanks to IT revolution and digitization, many business ideas are realized more easily and trying to answer to the above mentioned problems. One of which is subscription and sharing business models, I think.

 

It may not be necessarily a perfect solution. People can learn responsibility through owning things, but subscription and sharing business models are not a directly-opposed idea to possession. People will come to conduct a close pre-examination and pay only for things they really need, use very often, and want to look after. In the next article, he will be sharing his ideas on products that can meet such customers’ increasing expectations.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

 

Interview with Our Product Development Manager (vol. 2)

 

Let me continue to share the interview with our product development manager. “Products in good quality and design don’t always sell well.” These words aroused my interest in his opinion on design, because he meant market valuation about design would not always be appropriate. Then what is good design from the view point of a product development manager?

Q 4. If what you said is correct, are there products that are bad in design but good in sales? Good sales doesn’t always mean good design?

A 4. Sadly for me, design is not a centerpiece factor any more to decide if a product sells well or not. Now that marketing, advertisement, etc. have more significant influence, people are more likely to decide not by physical factors like design and quality but by impression fostered by advertising media, for example.

Q 5. What is good design in a nutshell?

A 5. As it may sound like an old-school answer, I still believe it’d be one with logic or certainty. What is expected for design is effectively making something to satisfy some specific requirements.

Q 6. The idea seems to come up with the conclusion: only one correct design for one product.

A 6. Yes if there is only one requirement for product development. For example, comfort is only one requirement for development of a chair, answers will converge to one specific design, but in the real world, people want more. I believe there will be still more new designs even for simple products like chairs.

 

This brought me to the last question. I’m very interested in what he would say if asked to name one product of which design he likes. To answer my question, he pointed at a hanging lamp at our shop (see the image above) “I imagine the designer would try many materials for the decoration plates; many angles at which the plates are put. Even so, no two are exactly alike. I like such designs partially effected by contingency, serendipity, or something beyond human understanding.”

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

Backseat Players in Our Production

According to the government, we have experienced the longest economic expansion since after the WWII. Although it seems like we, rank and file, are left out of the economic boom, more than 500 of Ferrari cars are annually sold in Japan, while more than 1.5 million of Toyota cars. “In the beginning the engine existed.” As Enzo Ferrari (the founder of Ferrari) left these famous words, it’s engines that feature Ferrari. The world’s leading Ferrari engines assembled by hand can be said to be the result of expert technique and experience. This doesn’t mean Toyota is inferior to Ferrari. It’s also an act of GOD to annually produce, in high and constant quality, millions of precision machines consisting of more than 30,000 pieces of parts. In other words, they are world leading companies of semi-handicraft manufacturing and production management, respectively. 

Now, what about wooden furniture? Indeed, it’s much simpler: such many parts are not necessary. However, hand work is essential like Ferrari, and we produce much more products than Ferrari (much less than Toyota, though). We are positioned in between them, but there’s one factor making our production management more difficult even than Toyota’s. We need to produce furniture in high and constant quality from non-constant material (wood). No two wood pieces are alike. Don’t you think it’s great? Please allow me to brag a little about our production management, because they are rarely spotlighted.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

Interview with Our Product Development Manager (vol. 1)


 

Are you interested in our product development stories? I actually am! Due to specialization at work, I don’t know much about how our products have been developed. Under the veil of work, I asked our product development manager questions that I’m personally interested in the answers to, and will be sharing his answers. By the way, it’d be more about the value he has in product development, rather than concrete methods of product development. This is delivered in two times: this week and next week.

Q 1. Why did you decide to work in the product development of furniture, not other products?

A 1. When I studied at Collage of Arts, the most popular industries were cars and electrical appliances, but most people working there didn’t look so happy. As specialization progressed, some people always worked on door mirrors, others worked on switch knobs, etc. On the other hand, we can see a broader view if it’s furniture. It’s not only because of business scale, but because of the nature of furniture as a product. It’s simple, and structure is almost equal to appearance, which I really like.

 

Q 2. Don’t you want to design furniture on your own from scratch?

A 2. Yes, of course, but mind you. I really enjoy myself. I believe what is the most desired quality for product development managers is communication skills. I can understand the arguments of our production team and designers, and always enjoy communicating with both to find a compromise. In addition, it’s exciting and challenging to work with outside designers. They’re a breath of fresh air for us. It’s sometimes difficult for me to think out of the box, because I know too much about woodworking.

Q 3. Are you always convinced before release that a new product would sell well?

A 3. Not always. Funnily enough, the chance of my guess being correct is higher in an opposite case (a new product might not sell well). Don’t get me wrong. We always give it all we got, but I don’t think products good in quality and design always sell well.

This sparked my interest more about his opinion on design, and I dug it deeper.

To be continued to Vol. 2…


 

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.



A Truth About Our Price Setting

 

Is it Really Expensive?

This is the most expensive chair (the one in the above image) among our lineup. With the same amount of money, you may buy full sets of living and dining furniture at IKEA, for example.

 

 

Results Made Through All-out Cost Reduction Efforts

Market prices are naturally fixed by the supply and demand balance. As the supply is likely to exceed the demand by technological development nowadays, price setting becomes more market-oriented, while ours is still product-oriented. I didn’t mean we have power to make a decision on price. For us, a furniture manufacturer, it’s beyond capacity to correctly forecast demand trends. What we can do is just sweating blood to make prices as low as possible, through the accumulation of small improvement.

 

Bittersweet Regional Disparity

As the above chart shows, the average annual income is lower in Hokkaido where our headquarters and factory are located. In other words, made-in-Hokkaido products, including the most expensive chair above-mentioned, are more value for money (because of the lower labor costs), though I’d rather have mixed feelings than being proud of it as a worker in Hokkaido.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

God Is in the Details?


 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel

The Imperial Hotel was built in 1923, demolished in 1967, and only of which entrance is still left as a museum in a small city far away from Tokyo where it was built. In order to make it the best hotel in Asia, its design was requested of Frank Lloyd Wright. The name of the architect is one of the big factors for the building to go down in history, but there’s another big factor. On the very day of unveiling the hotel, the Great Kanto Earthquake hit Tokyo and claimed more than 140,000 lives, but it remained intact.

 

God in the Decorations

I visited the museum sometimes when I lived near the small city. What impressed me most is the decorations on the windows and pillars. Due to the natural light through the window decorations and illumination light leaked from inside the pillars, I felt like being draped in light, and the decorations deeply reminded me of the words: God is in the details.

Source: https://www.condehouse.co.jp/contract/?lng=ja_en

 

We Have to Also See the Wood.

As I was writing before, being detail-oriented is one of the Japanese national characters. In that sense, our furniture can be said to be full of God. Having said that, I don’t mean such a national character always works better. For example, there are some Japanese cars of which design is extremely good in details but strange when they are seen on the whole. “You can’t see the wood for the trees.” This would be another saying that we have to keep in mind.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.



Struggle behind Product Development

 

Tense Chemistry Made in the Process

No matter how many times they have gone through the same process, the product development team gets tense when presenting the first prototype of a new design to designers and receiving the initial feedback. The designers are so meticulous that they, at times, point out slightest details indicating things like, “The armrests are five-milometer thicker than the specification in my drawing.” This is where they start joining hands to eliminate discrepancies between the prototype made by the product development team and the image the designer has in mind. The product development team always aims at the fulfillment of structural and technical feasibility as well as manufacturing efficiency while making their best efforts to meet designers’ requests.

 

What Makes Us a Japanese Brand?

CONDE HOUSE has collaborated with many designers from all over the world, but their nationality has never been a question. As a result of pursuing good designs, we believe that a person’s skin color or race is irrelevant to the essential value of the design he or she may create. CONDE HOUSE communicates the Japanese designs to the world, and at the same time, introduces the designs created by designers worldwide to the Japanese market. It may sound paradoxical, but this bi-directional exchange of culture with many countries has made it possible for us to define what true “Japanese-ness” is.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

Ship of Theseus for Branding

 

Hydra

Do you know a creature called Hydra? Even if being cut in pieces (three, for example), it completely re-produces the three fragments to become three Hydras. I thought we wouldn’t need to be afraid of injury and disease anymore if acquiring the super ability, because we could survive by removing damaged parts, but I soon noticed a problem: that would leave another whole body affected by injury or disease. At the same time, a question also came up: Which would be me?

 

Ship of Theseus

This is totally an excuse, but I was very young at that time. From ignorance and arrogance peculiar to teenagers, I thought there had been no one ever having such a profound philosophical question. However, it was just a few months later that I happened to know “Ship of Theseus” and completely understood I was NOT a genius. It took long to get to the point. Today’s topic is the Ship of Theseus for branding.

No worries. Our restoration service leaves as many original parts as possible.

 

The Core of a Brand

There are many definitions for branding, and one of the well-known is “It’s a guarantee provided from a company to customers.” That’s not quite wrong, but I strongly recommend to put this definition aside for now, because it basically applies to super brands, like Apple, Disney, Toyota, etc. For us, ordinary companies, it’s still early. We should focus more on who we are: a ground on which we can say “It’s still the ship of Theseus!” As for our brand, I believe it’d be a place. Even if all the current staff leaves, even if all the current products are discontinued, I believe the core of our brand can be left in furniture as long as it is made here of wood cut from the local forest.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.