Understanding Distribution in Japan: Selling Directly To Retailers

“We do great business with Best Buy in the U.S., so I’m sure stores in Japan like Yamada Denki, Yodobashi Camera, K’s Denki, and Joshin would love to have our products on their shelves.” In our experience, this is only partially true. Retailers like the companies listed may be quite interested in selling your products, but they will rarely be interested in doing business directly with foreign suppliers, so approaching them is almost always a complete waste of time. Here …

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Japanese Distributors: The Wrong Ones & The Right Ones To Approach

“Can you find the distributors that our main Japanese competitor uses in Japan and reach out to these companies for us? Our products are much better than their products, so I’m sure these distributors will want to talk with us.” We’re often asked by clients to contact the distributors in Japan that their Japanese competitors use. We’re always happy to oblige, but we’ve found that this approach rarely works. This is because one of the characteristics of the Japanese distribution …

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Understanding Distribution In Japan: The Kouza System

The Japanese “kouza” (口座 or account) system refers to a traditional method of doing business in Japan, particularly in the retail sector, where retailers only purchase from suppliers who have been screened and approved in advance. In other words, suppliers such as manufacturers and distributors who have an existing “account” with the retailer. Key features of the kouza system include: 1. Exclusive Territories: Retailers are often granted exclusive territories by their suppliers. This means that a particular retailer is the …

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Doing Business In Japan: Lessons From The Pandemic

When the pandemic begin and Japan began to restrict entry to the country for non-Japanese citizens, I thought our business was dead in the water for the foreseeable future. This is because the “traditional” way to find distributors in Japan has always been to visit the country to meet potential partners. How were our clients going to do this if they couldn’t even get into Japan? I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong… In fact, we’ve been busier …

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Japanese Distributors, Importers, and Agents

There are thousands of Japanese companies importing and distributing non-Japanese products. We’ve worked with clients in dozens of different industries and find that there are typically 20 to 45 companies or more actively importing and distributing foreign products in any given product category. Here are a few examples: “A” is an importer of fashion apparel. The company was founded in 1950 and currently has 190 employees. They are headquartered in Kobe with a sales office in Tokyo to maintain close …

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Finding Japanese Distributors Using Government Services

Many clients come to us after unsuccessfully trying to find Japanese sales partners using the matchmaking services provided by government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Commerce, UK Department for International Trade, The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, Austrade, German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan, and Switzerland Global Enterprise. Why are these government agencies rarely successful in helping foreign companies connect with the right Japanese distributors or sales agents? I’ve talked with dozens of clients from all around the world about …

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Do You Need “Connections” To Find The Right Japanese Distributor?

I’m often asked by new clients if we have experience in their industry. The underlying belief here seems to be that you need “connections” to do business with Japanese companies or need to “know someone” in order for distributors in Japan to take you seriously. This is simply not true. We have cold-called thousands of Japanese distributors and I can say with great confidence that the vast majority of Japanese distributors are extremely open to hearing about new business opportunities… …

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Japanese Distributors – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How can I sell my products in Japan? I don’t speak a word of Japanese or have any connections in Japan. Almost all foreign products sold in the Japanese market go through specialized distributors (importers). These companies handle importation, marketing and promotion of your products, warehousing, and local support. They typically purchase your products at a discount and then resell at a higher price to retailers, wholesalers, and even end-users in some industries. These distributors work closely with the foreign …

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How To Convince Japanese Distributors To Sell Your Products

In the last article, we looked at the best way to contact potential Japanese distributors if you don’t speak Japanese. I’m now going to discuss how to convince these companies that your product line would be a good addition to the products they already carry. It is important that you give this some thought because the best Japanese distributors are usually also the most selective. A quality product and a healthy profit margin won’t be enough to get their interest. …

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Best Way To Contact Japanese Distributors If You Don’t Speak Japanese

Some “experts” on doing business in Japan say that cold calling Japanese companies doesn’t work. They insist that the only effective way to approach these companies is through a personal introduction. This is nonsense. We’ve contacted hundreds of Japanese distributors on behalf of clients and find most very interested in hearing about products that complement the brands that they are already carrying. This makes sense if you stop to think about it. Any savvy distributor knows that the best way …

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