The role of the Buyer in a retail business is to decide what items are stocked and, of course, since it is my shop and I am the only member of the team, that is my role!
It’s a very important role too as, without goods to stock and sell, I wouldn’t have a business at all. I am the decision maker and this relies very much on my personal taste and vision.
It's also a very enjoyable role. I love Japanese design and style, especially in the home, and it was my ambition for a long while to tell people about Japanese home style and bring it to the UK for people here to enjoy. In fact, I also sell to customers in Europe and the USA as many of these items can only be found in specialist Asian shops and can be quite hard to source.
I go on holiday to Japan once a year (or try to) and being in Japan always renews my enthusiasm and gives me ideas and inspiration. I come away with fresh ideas about the styles and types of products that reflect modern living in Japan and are fashionable in Japanese homes. This brief immersion in Japanese culture definitely influences my decisions about what I end up buying for the Hatsukoi shop and helps me bring an authenticity to the collection.
Choosing what to buy is a lengthy and careful process; I spend a lot of time researching and reviewing what to buy, collating the things that fit with my shop’s brand and deciding which are good value and quality as well as having the right aesthetic.
The buying decisions I make do, after all, reflect my whole concept for Hatsukoi which is to bring Japanese style into UK and Western homes and it is what gives my shop its own style and unique collection.
These personal choices that I make do not mean that I am without constraints when judging what to buy and I always have to take several other factors into account when deciding whether to place an order.
Prices and Budget
Getting a good wholesale price is important but I am not really big enough to enter into any negotiations with my suppliers over price. However, I have found Japanese suppliers and manufacturers to be extremely accommodating and I am usually able to get a very reasonable wholesale price even when I buy fairly small quantities.
When it comes to deciding what to buy from Japan, I also have to be very aware of what price I think I will be able to sell it for. Japan is well known for manufacturing but did you know that many of the factories are small family-run affairs that produce high-quality goods in limited numbers, often using traditional techniques? As such, some of these items can, understandably, command a premium price.
Once I have added the cost of shipping, currency exchange and the fees and tax that I must pay when goods arrive in the UK, I have to judge whether the final sale price is still affordable and represents great value for my customers.
Another factor regarding price is that the more I can buy of a particular item, the cheaper I can buy it for. It also makes the import admin fee that accompanies every consignment I receive better value. So I must judge how easy I think an item will be to sell to a Western market and how familiar it will look to them. Ceramics and glass are pretty safe but if I judge an item to be ‘very Japanese’ then I might try just a few to see how they go down.
I try very hard to stock a range of items at different price points so that, no matter what kind of budget you have to spend, you can find something beautiful that has been made to a high standard and reflects a Japanese aesthetic.
Service & quality from the vendor
With my suppliers being half-way round the world, it’s impossible for me to meet with them or visit their factories much as I would love to.
I have to rely on the information I get from their websites and the photos and descriptions they give of their products. I can also email them with questions about a particular item if there’s anything that’s not clear.
However, it is not a ‘given’ that the employees of a supplier can speak English and, I’m sorry to say, my Japanese is not good enough for business communication.
A lot of the text I see has been through Google Translate and it can be quite difficult to get the full meaning if you are not used to some of the quirks of the Japanese language! I do, of course, mean that fondly as Japanese is a lovely language to learn and speak and can be very poetic.
Having worked for Japanese companies and being lucky enough to have Japanese friends, I am aware of some of the subtleties of the language and hopefully can gain a bit more insight into what is meant. In some cases however I just have to guess!
In any case, occasionally if the descriptions and information is not good enough, doesn’t seem accurate or is difficult to understand, I may make the decision to pass on something that initially looked good. Seeing as the products come such a long way, returning them is out of the question.
Over time I have developed a collection of suppliers where I have established a relationship and that I order from regularly. I know they have good quality items, package them well and give me an overall good service.
A Long Lead Time
When I place an order for new stock, I then have to wait the three months that it takes to ship the consignment by sea from Japan.
Shipping, even by sea, is not cheap and airfreight is simply too expensive for me. Therefore, it is not possible for me to receive anything quickly from Japan.
This means that impulse buys based on surprise trends or seasonal occasions can’t really happen and I have to think and plan quite a long way ahead.
So far I have steered clear of buying items specifically with Christmas in mind or featuring Christmassy designs as I can’t quite get my mind around looking for those items so far in advance.
Instead I try to find things that will make great gifts and useful presents at any time of year and hope that people will think to try my shop when looking for unique or unusual ideas.
The length of time involved definitely means I take a more mindful and measured approach to running my shop. I have the enjoyment of choosing, collating and placing my order and then I have all the excitement again, three months down the line, of rediscovering what I ordered and revelling once again in the detail, quality and design but this time with the items in my hand!