Azone Co., Ltd.
Representative Director Mr. Kenji Yokoseki
Buy TOKYO’s promotion activity support project gave us
the chance to change unexpected challenges to an innovative project
The flagship item of Azone, founded in 2011, is the bamboo craft "Japanese Pattern wa-gu-mi" (referred to as wa-gu-mi below) and the three-dimensional wooden puzzle, "Wooden Art ki-gu-mi" (referred to as ki-gu-mi below). The wa-gu-mi series expresses an intricate Japanese pattern with a laser cut on bamboo material. The ki-gu-mi series, also a laser out of wooden parts, offers different kinds of motifs and puzzles with motifs, such as Japanese anime works, castles, and temples. The company used to believe that it could keep growing until the Tokyo 2020 Games, as the products' characteristics were popular among inbound tourists.
However, it faced an unprecedented situation in 2020 caused by the spread of COVID-19. The president of Azone, Mr. Kenji Yokoseki, shared that he felt the need to expand the sales channel while the number of inbound tourists plummeted. From 2022, the unstable situation that took place on a global scale and the weak yen also triggered concerns in areas such as procuring raw materials. Mr. Yokoseki was able to turn such adversity into an opportunity for change thanks to the Buy TOKYO promotion activity support project, which the company had started receiving support for since August 2021.
Utilizing expenditure subsidies for exhibitions and PR activities in distant places.
Discovering demand in untapped regions and genres
One of the measures Azone started to expand its sales channel was exhibiting at exhibitions in Japan. Mr. Yokoseki felt there was a substantial response at the first exhibition in Kyoto in 2022. The company is planning to exhibit at the same exhibition for the second time in March 2023.
"If you set up a booth at an exhibition, it will cost at least 1 million yen. It costs about 2 to 5 million yen for us. It was a great help to be able to use the financial aid for this. Another advantage of the Buy TOKYO promotion activity support project's expenditure subsidy is that it can be used for transportation and accommodation expenses for public relations activities at the event. We were able to become proactive in our activities in rural areas and develop untapped fields such as interior design."
He shared that the company's funds that the expenditure subsidy could save were used to develop products in undeveloped fields. Some of the examples include making prototype switch covers with family crests of inns and hotels and chopstick rests for restaurants using the bamboo wa-gu-mi. The chopstick rest also serves as a toothpick holder. It was inspired by the unique perspective when the company experienced the situation triggered by COVID-19, as some people might hesitate to use a toothpick from a container that everyone touches. Being blessed financially due to the expenditure subsidy that could be used for things such as PR activities empowered the company to create products based on their ideas swiftly.
Strengthening EC sales with hands-on support.
Experiencing a sixfold increase in the sales ratio of the company’s EC website. Cross-border EC continues to be strong
Azone started to also focus on sales on EC websites. The company heavily relied on Buy TOKYO's promotional activity support project's hands-on support.
"I was able to talk to advisors who are experts in a specific field, such as SEO experts and writers. We refurbished our EC website and opened our official store on Rakuten and Amazon Japan while receiving expert advice. The domestic e-commerce sales ratio, which was around 5% before COVID-19, has increased to 30% this term. The employees of the Planning and Marketing Department, who are involved in the actual work of the e-commerce website, are happy to say that the “hands-on support helped us make great strides forward in things that we didn't understand and had been putting off."
Azone also started overseas e-commerce sales after strengthening its domestic e-commerce sales. It first started to sell its products on Amazon in the US and then on Alibaba in China. It had been a few months since the sales had started at the time of this article's coverage. The company had already received inquiries from several companies that wanted to sell Azone's products at their physical stores. Azone was able to benefit from having a good start.
"I'm looking forward to what the future brings. I have hopes to sell our products on cross-border e-commerce in other countries now that we have the know-how."
Expanding overseas with blockchain!
An unprecedented challenge is just around the corner
As for expanding overseas expansion, it is planning to develop its EC sales and an original method called the "Azone System."
"Our products can be produced by laser cutting if we have the data. Utilizing this strength, I would like to be able to laser cut and sell local raw materials in countries around the world. We will provide product data and build an unprecedented “blockchain that handles the actual product.” My current dream is to conquer the world with this."
This project is also supported by the Buy TOKYO promotion activity support project. Azone is currently in the preparation process.
The company also is utilizing the expenditure subsidies for other purposes. The Buy TOKYO promotion activity support project's long-term support for almost two years enabled the company to implement a wide range of measures.
"Most of the other grant programs are for a year. In contrast, the Buy TOKYO promotion activity support project lasts for about two years. The subsidies are distributed every year. I am grateful for the long period the support is offered, even from the perspective of managing the costs. Talking with multiple advisors in various fields through hands-on support was also very impressive. 1+1 can turn to 3 or even 4 when professionals gather."
At the end of the interview, we asked Mr. Yokoseki to summarize the period since 2020, when the crisis caused by COVID-19 broke out. He replied with a smile and shared the following. "If it were a time when things were going up, I wouldn't have thought about receiving support, and the vision of expanding overseas with the 'Azone System' may not have been born. I could receive the right kind of stimulation because I was against the odds. It was because I was in adversity that I was stimulated." As for the vision for the future, he said, "I still don't know what will happen in the future, whether it's about COVID-19 or the depreciation of the yen. I would like to prepare for what the future brings." Azone's challenge in the "new world," which began with the start of support for the Buy TOKYO promotion activity support project, is likely to continue after March 2023, when the support ends.