Sunday, June 7, 2009

Getting to Know: John Fuller and Kinokuniya Part 2

Part 1 of Getting to Know: John Fuller and Kinokuniya.

Kinokuniya Bookstore

Did you know that originally Kinokuniya was not a bookstore? In the 1920’s, the company was originally a coal heat supplier. Then in 1928 Kinokuniya was converted into a bookstore “under the charismatic and colorful leadership of Mr. Moichi Tanabe.”

Currently, “Kinokuniya is a general bookstore in Japan with a strong 'cultural' ethic and emphasis.” However, in the United States, it has more of a 'mission' to introduce elements of Japanese culture to a US audience” along with providing Japanese language materials to Japanese people, who are stationed or living abroad in the States. To provide foreign language materials, Kinokuniya would have to import some publications from Japan. So, how does the Kinokuniya Bookstore import items into the US.

We use a wholesale supplier that also supplies our stores in Japan or import direct from our Tokyo Offices. It is a natural, transparent process now that it has been developed but took some time in being created.” Other then providing information on Japanese culture, Kinokuniya “always had some English language side business.” As a result, it was “natural” to provide English sections in the stores outside of Japan, which “tended to become sections in English about Japan,” and majority of those books “are bought locally, though and not imported.”

Like any company, competition exists, and I figured it is a normal part of the business world. Whether the other companies are small or big, in the most basic understanding of mine, they are your competitors if one provides similar services in the same realm to obtain a common goal, such keeping the business alive. So I figured, the Kinokuniya Bookstore at Bryan Park would have competition from others, whether it is another Japanese bookstore or an American bookstore. So, who are their competitors? “Over the years, we have had many number of 'competitors', some are even alternately customers or suppliers.” How does the Kinokuniya Bookstore deal with their competitors? “Most of our competition is given a healthy respect, especially if we are alternately customers or suppliers with them. But we have our competitive side and work to supply our customers with excellent selection and competent service to 'stay on top of our game'.”

Sometimes for a company to stay a float and still be functioning, if they have products to sell, prices of an item can affect consumers’ decision on whether or not to purchase. Again, keep in mind that this is a basic business concept, relationship of seller and buyer, of mine. Yes, we all like sales and reduction of prices for a product, like manga for less than the suggested retail price. Although the concept of a “sale” is adopted in some American based stores, in Japan, “book prices are set by law and cannot be changed.” According to John, “it is a bit of a 'foreign' idea to have sales or even to take returns.” Being a New York located Japanese bookstore, Kinokuniya “has adjusted to local and foreign markets,” where adaptation to such practices might be needed. “It is difficult to get a company wide policy towards these practices, however, since they simply don't happen in Japan.”

Now to further educate us about prices, I decided to ask John about the prices of import products. Why are the prices for such products higher compared to those made in the US? John said, “We cannot sell books for the same face value that they are in Japan and make money.” Yes, they need to make some kind of profit, because if the store did not make money, they will not be alive and running. “We also do not sell used, second hand or pirated merchandise. There are costs and infrastructure involved in importing the way we do, which is often a single book or magazine at a time. That costs money. That said, many of our Japanese version manga are actually less expensive than their US released versions.”

Being a Store Manager

John has been with the company for quite a while. He started at Kinokuniya as a part timer, while he was still a student, and “have worked my way up over the years.” The work of a store manager is “always stimulating,” but challenging. Even though there are obstacles to overcome, “particularly where there are language and cultural differences,” John enjoys that kind of challenge. His typical day and schedule varies because it depends on the set projects and goals, which can change overtime. However, “I usually come in early in the morning and leave well after the store closes.”

Although work is work, there is more to his job then just having responsibilities and a career. "I would say that working for Kinokuniya has a kind of family aspect to it. Most who have worked for Kinokuniya come back and visit long after they have left with warm regards. At the same time, the company has changed over the years, sometimes drastically, to keep competitive and there are human costs to such changes as well.” Since John has witnessed and experienced the many changes and activities of the bookstore, they all have contributed to his learning and understanding of his career. “I would not cite one experience but I would say that using Japanese at work on a daily basis has changed my outlook and way of thinking enormously.” So, yes, his ability to speak, read and write Japanese has helped him as the store manager of the Kinokuniya NYC flagship Bookstore.
© 2009 Linda Thai

Stay tune for Part 3!
Photography by Linda Thai and Jason Linetsky.


Anonymous said...

Didn't know these until now. Thanks for sharing!

Lyntha Tye said...

Thank you for the support, Zychr!