Updated – Masters of Marketing (Snowboard edition) – Katsuro Taguchi

green clothing
田口勝朗氏は、私の大切な日本の友人の一人です。
にこやかで、気さくな彼は、私が困ったときにいつも助けてくれました。
かれこれ20年以上前の話になりますが、初めて日本の居酒屋に連れて行ってもらった時の
ことや、真夜中の東京で一緒に鯉釣りをしたことなど、とても懐かしく思い出されます。

また、彼は私のブログ「マスターズ・オブ・マーケティング」スノーボード編で取り上げた
最初の人物でもあります。彼が立ち上げたグリーン クロージング社が成功をしている理由
を考えてみました。

1.他社との繋がりを大切にしている
2.市場と顧客について良く学んでいる
3.信頼できる人間である
4.顧客との信頼関係を築き、固定客を獲得している
5.魅力的な製品を作っている

それらは、どのビジネスにも通ずる事柄なのだと思います。                               

                                 ケリー・ロス

2013 Update

The world of marketing has changed significantly since I first wrote about Katsuro Taguchi’s Green

Kats snowboarding

Clothing back in 2011.  Many people think that “social media” (especially Facebook) is the easiest way to build any business.  This belief often results in a business spewing out  spam-like posts and tweets that ultimately just turn off potential customers.  What they are missing is the real purpose and benefit of social media.   Social media is an effective tool to connect with customers, build community and eventually increase your business.  One of the secrets to the success of Green Clothing is that since its inception Kats focused on connecting with his customers and building community.  Whether it was his little snowboard zine called Pozer, sponsoring and selling music or holding demos all connected him and his brand with his customers. So when Green Clothing started using Facebook it didn’t require new thinking and it wasn’t just a blast of posts.  Kats has been relating to and connecting with his

hakuba tour

customers since the very beginning of Green Clothing 19 years ago and Facebook is just one more method to continue this.

Masters of Marketing – Katsuro Taguchi

Katsuro Taguchi is one of the most generous people I have ever met. Always smiling, always friendly, ready to do just about anything to help you out. He is a person that you just have to hang out with, and you will be glad you did.  Who else would take you Koi fishing in Tokyo in the middle of the night? (story for another day) He also is a genius marketer and tribe builder as you will see.

History of Green Snowboard Clothing

Katsuro Taguchi (Kats) has been snowboarding in Japan at least since 1989 which is when I first met him. The proof is in this photo of him competing in the 1989 All Japan Snowboard contest.

Kats snowboarding

If you look closely it looks like he is riding in a pair of the what could be the very first snowboard specific jeans. (actually they are just jeans!) He was very active in the formative years of Japan’s snowboard scene and worked at Stormy Board Shop in the center of Tokyo. Gradually he got involved in distributing a Canadian snowboard clothing brand (The Snoboard Shop) in Japan.  This brand became very popular and Kats was a good part of its success.

As snowboarding in Japan continued to grow Kats decide to launch his own brand “Green”. This was around 1995. The market was dominated by the foreign brands (mostly USA and Canadian) but there was a few Japanese Brands just starting out (AFD). The owners of these brands saw an opportunity in the market for a couple of reasons.  First the majority of foreign brands were not sized properly to fit Japanese snowboarders.  Also the busy designs and brighter colours offered by the North American brands were not addressing the simpler colours and designs preferred by a good segment of Japanese snowboarders .  So Kats using his “inside” knowledge came out with a line totally designed for a segment of Japanese riders.  Below is a sample of Green Clothing the first year it came out.

Green Clothing 94/95

Interestingly if you read the Green Logo box it says “3% of all Green clothing sales are donated to help save the worlds rain-forests”.  This was 1995 and the whole “Green Movement” was really just at the fringes of public perceptions.  So Kats wasn’t picking a trendy cause to cash in on, he was standing up for what he believed in and putting his company’s resources behind it.  This obviously struck a note with his customers as this theme continued and wove itself into the identity of the brand.

What I learned from this is for a brand to truly connect with its customers it has to include a part of who the owners are and what they believe.  Yes, a really good marketer can market anything but what I am talking about is creating a brand that resonates with customers.  A brand they feel a part of, that they tell others about and that they continue to support over the long term (ex: Apple).

Being just like most start-ups when Kats launched Green he had no where near the advertising budget or high-profile team riders of the foreign competition.  What he did when he advertized was come out with something completely oppisite to what was being done at the time. Now at the time in Japan the advertising was either boring (North American) or strange (European).  Many times Japanese distributors would just use an action shot of a team rider and the logo. Kats decide to do something completely different here is what I believe is his first ad.

Green Ad

It is a funny take-off on the Japanese Businessman partying at the hostess bar celebrating his success only to end up on the street. The name of his company (at the bottom of the ad) “Vegetable Shop” in Japanese was unique, with the vegetable logo and “Have a nice day”. If you flip through the magazine this ad appeared in, it definitely stands out. His sense of humour which was a part of who he was, came through in his brand. Humour, if used correctly is a great way for a brand to connect and stand out.

Now as Kats launched his brand he had a couple of valuable assets to utilize.  First he had acquired many connection in the snowboard industry while he worked at Stormy and from his distribution of The Snoboard Shop brand.  Secondly, I am sure it helped that he was generous, kind and therefore well liked, a person others wanted to get behind and support.

An off topic story about being locked out, meeting grandpa, missing the train and squid on a stick

I experienced this firsthand whenever I was in Tokyo. For example, Kats always made sure I was included when everyone headed out to the Izakayas (Japanese Pub) every night after work.  One night,  I got locked out of the place I was staying and almost killed myself trying to climb onto the 2nd floor balcony to get back in (Izakaya + Kuronama + balcony = danger!). However, I knew I could count on Kats to help me out.   He drove me back to his place and let me stay in his room while he crashed at his office (a 5 minute walk away).  Kats shared this apartment with his grandfather (who spoke no english) and he forgot to tell Grandpa that I (strange foreigner) was staying there.  Needless to say it made for an interesting “introduction” the next morning when Kats slept in and I had to come out of the room to leave.   It was no big deal as Grandpa was used to Kats letting people stay in his room.  I think it was because often these people missed the last train home or possibly because they were a stupid foreigner who got locked out by Grandma (not related to Kats’ Grandfather, and anyway she was a saint who used to feed me delicious food so all is forgiven).

kats017

The reason people miss the last train is because trains in Tokyo stop running around midnight (don’t ask me why). This creates 2 situations, the first is people doing everything they can to not miss their train (more on that later) and the second is people do miss their trains (many of who apparently end up staying at Kat’s place).  The fact almost everyone is desperately trying not to miss their train produces very interesting crowds of people hitting the streets right around 11:30 and subsequently some fascinating train rides home.

The best way I can describe it is it is like going to  a frat party at midnight and get everyone there to run several blocks full speed down winding streets.  As you run you must dodge various obstacles such as people stopping to pee on a wall, the walls themselves, squid-on-a-stick vendors and so on,

all the while looking down to count the change in your hands so you are ready for fare machines.   Then you take all these people, winded, dizzy and full of squid and cram them tighter than you think humanly possible onto a humid, starting, stopping and swaying train car. Well, you get the picture.  Anyway I digress, I think I was explaining how Kats built his brand.

Keys to Green Snowboard Clothing’s success

Another of his advantages was because he lived, worked and snowboarded in Japan with Japanese riders he knew exactly what they wanted in snowboard clothing and designed accordingly.  To sum up the assets Kats had were:

  1. connection in the industry
  2. intimate knowledge of Japanese snowboarders and their clothing preferences
  3. the fact he is a nice guy and people like him

 

Now these factors are a great start but they would not alone have been enough to produce a snowboard clothing brand that has lasted for 19 years.  What Kats did was create a tribe surrounding his brand.  Now I am not sure that is what he started out to do but given his personality, strengths and abilities that is what he ended up with.  In the book Tribes, Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people, who are connected to:

  1. One another
  2. A leader
  3. An idea.

 

I remember being at several special event promotions at various Snowboard Shops in Japan and there was Kats right on the sales floor introducing  himself and personally helping all the customers he could.  This builds incredible loyalty and worth of mouth especially when you are starting out.  He also created a zine caller “Poser” which was basically just designed and then photocopied (pre-website days) as a low-cost way to spread the word about Green.  He also connect with musicians and sponsored musical events and even sold CD’s on his website.  Another way the Green tribe connected was through contests and videos including one I came across a couple of months ago called “The Wall”  It is a unique contest in a skateboard park built out of snow along with a video. This is a teaser video you really should watch.


More Snowboarding Videos

Marketing Takeaway

There are several things that contributed to the success of Green Snowboard Clothing that can be applied to any business.  They are:

  1. Cultivate industry connections – If you have them utilize them to build your brand.  If you are not connected it is never too soon to start.
  2. Gain intimate knowledge of the market – you can not possibly know everything but you do need to know your market.  What are their preferences ? Where are they found? and so on
  3. Be a positive representative of your brand (ie. be nice) – People are more likely to support a brand where the representative is likable
  4. Build your tribe.  Find ways of connecting for your tribe.  Today that is through the  internet and social media.  However don’t overlook events like contests or concerts.  Continue to build your brand identity in ways that fits with the tribe.  Be involved and aware with your tribe so that you can continue to fine tune your offerings.
  5. Make great products – Green snowboard clothing has always been a awesome blend of function, style and a bit of fashion.  It looks good, keeps riders warm and dry and it stands out in subtle ways.

 

Links:

Katsuro Taguchi’s Products, blog and links: http://www.800freedom.biz/

Green Clothing:  http://www.800freedom.biz/freo/index.php/category/wear

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/800freedom?ref=stream&hc_location=stream

 

 

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