JETRO Case File: Albi Imports

Dec 20, 2011


Established more than 20 years ago, Albi Imports has come to be a leading and dominant force in the Australian home accessories market. Albi offers extensive kitchenware, ceramics, and decorator accessories in addition to its tabletop and textiles ranges.
Currently, Albi’s products are sold in over 1,500 department, specialist and independent retail stores throughout Australia and New Zealand. Home wares brands include AMALFI®, ANYA®, ECOGLASS®, EMPORIUM® and STORESMART®. Kitchenware brands include ACCURA®, DAVIS & WADDELL®, MASTERCHEF®, and more.
Mr. Alastair Shakes is the Senior Buyer and Head of the Kitchenware Procurement team and has extensive experience in the importing of Kitchenware and home ware products. Mr. Shakes, together with the Company’s buyers and product developers travel the world to source new and interesting products and brands to add to their existing, comprehensive range of products.

Mr. Shakes says that targeting Japan has obvious advantages including the premium quality of product which is high on the list of criteria for selecting new product lines. Mr Shakes adds that “the fact that a limited number of competitors would be sourcing from the Japanese market, means that Albi’s products would be less likely to cross over with that of competitors.”

Earlier this year when the IFFT/Interior Lifestyle Living in Tokyo 2011 Invitation Program was announced, JETRO Sydney contacted Albi Imports directly to ask Mr Shakes to apply for a place and participate in the Business Matching Program. “The business matching component was certainly the most appealing. In addition, the interpreter service supplied made communication effortless.” – Shakes. Albi’s main interest for participating in the Program was to find some good manufacturing contacts in Japan and establish a line of communication. Secondly, Mr. Shakes wanted to learn more about Japanese culture and business trading practices fort their future business with Japan.

JETRO’s Business Matching Programs and Invitational Programs aim to promote Japanese products abroad and provide international buyers, wholesalers and distributors a chance to connect with manufacturers and establish working business relationships. These programs are extremely beneficial for small to medium sized international companies that would otherwise have difficulty getting a foot in the door in the Japanese market because of barriers such as language, culture or distance, etc.

Mr. Shakes knows first hand that language can be a barrier for companies wanting to go to Japan. The fear of not being able to communicate effectively with a foreign counterpart is understandable and something JETRO hears about often. To that end, JETROs programs include an interpreter to facilitate favourable outcomes for business matching. “The business matching was extremely beneficial. Having a supplied interpreter was priceless. Not only did they research my business so they could introduce me with confidence but they also taught me a lot about Japanese etiquette which allowed me to establish some good relationships.” When meeting potential business partners in Japan, the language of business includes many simple gestures and manners. Confidently exchanging business cards on a first introduction is a primary example.

Prior to participating in the Program, Mr Shakes had an idea about the Japanese market. Perceptions about Japanese products on one hand are that they are of high quality, and this means they would come with a matching high price. Like many importers before, Albi identified Japan as a strategic market from which to source unique and quality products. “I’ve always wanted to source product from Japan, but had always assumed that pricing would be prohibitive due to the price sensitive market in Australia therefore there was never much more of a focus other than to appreciate the product.”-Shakes.

According to Mr. Shakes what originally attracted Albi to look closer at Japan is the fact that competitors are less likely to import from Japan as it is a little “left field” giving an edge on supply that hopefully others won’t have. In addition, the perceived quality from Japan is high, and with China being the world’s factory, their lead times are blowing out and FOB prices are catching up.

JETRO’s main service to Albi’s was to facilitate the broadening of Albi’s network in Japan. By the conclusion of the Business Matching Program, Albi had some extra contacts with trading houses that can consolidate product form a variety of factories. Furthermore, Mr Shakes will also look out for any upcoming opportunities with regards to business matching programs and, where eligible apply for some programs directly related to Albi’s kitchenware business.

For other companies interested in meeting Japanese companies to establish a supplier relationship, it may be useful to understand Japanese customs and business etiquette, but of course, this is not essential as JETRO’s role is to be in the middle to ensure smooth introductions. Albi’s experience with Japanese companies demonstrates the very honourable and gentle nature of Japanese businesses, which makes for an enjoyable experience for the foreign companies.

Albi’s next stage since the conclusion of the Invitation Program is to continue to nurture the contacts made during the program and work towards developing relationships with Japanese factories and suppliers. “There is certainly good potential to work with Japan to establish a sound partnership that would be long lasting”.-Shakes