Time Again for an Animal-Like Business Style

About 20 years ago, I remember, Professor Tajima of Gakushuin University was giving a talk at a certain meeting, and in the question-and-answer session that followed one specialty store owner asked, "Specialty store management is in dire straits. What should we do to survive at a difficult time like this?" At that time, specialty audio stores were under pressure from an offensive by large discount stores belonging to the Nippon Electric Big-Stores Association. In addition, the environment surrounding the industry was severe, including the aftereffects of the oil crises and the switch to a floating exchange rate system. In the audio business, the market for system components was reaching saturation point, and the shift to minicomputers was beginning. Nevertheless, the consumer taste for audio systems was still firm, so the business remained on a growth track.

Professor Tajima's reply to the question was, "Adopt an animal-like business style." An animal-like business style? The members of the audience looked very puzzled indeed. "Animals go to where the food is," explained Professor Tajima. "A plant-like business style means just sitting back and waiting until the customers come to you. Plants easily feel the impact of the natural environment. If dry weather continues, they wither. But animals can keep out of the sunshine, and they can find food and water by going out and looking for it."

If I remember correctly, Professor Tajima said no more on this subject. His point was that rather than just talking about how hard the times are, it is necessary to change your style of management and go out looking for customers. The store owner who asked the question did not seem to get it, though.

A long time ago, I was asked for some advice by the owner of a specialty store. "Things are not going well at all," he said. "Whatever is the problem?" That store had, I think, only about six shop assistants, but it also had a high-cost management structure. Most of the shop assistants were elderly, which meant that there was a gap between them and the young people who made up the bulk of consumers at that time.

I offered the following advice to the owner. First, I said, let the younger assistants take charge of store sales. And second, form a door-to-door sales team consisting of the older assistants. On the first point, by leaving things to the younger assistants, the owner would be able to tap their abilities and send a fresh breeze through the store. It would be necessary to ensure that they reported back, maintained liaison, and asked for advice, though.

On the second point, we were entering a user age, so the existence of customer management was going to become important. Accordingly, the first thing that should be done is to visit customers, provide tests and guidance on usage, and link this with future sales. It is important to organize a list of customers. And this approach should not be adopted leisurely. Goals should be set and quickly achieved. The store should also whip up enthusiasm by introducing a commission system.

The owner of the store promptly put my suggestions into practice. After about a month he contacted me to let me know that a young assistant had indeed introduced an interesting sales method. One customer had been searching for an amplifier but could not make up his mind what to buy, upon which the shop assistant said to him, "If you cannot decide, the best thing is to make do with what you have been using so far. By the way, we have a new video recorder on sale. Why don't you take a look at it?" The customer ended up purchasing a video recorder that was more expensive than the amplifier he had intended to buy.

As might be expected, though, the door-to-door sales team does not seem to have gone very well. Those people were so accustomed to a plant-like business style that they were not suited to an animal-like approach. The store went back to square one quite quickly, and after a few years it closed down for good. I cannot help thinking that in the present day and age also, the only way to survive is with an animal-like approach.