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Founding a company in Japan as a non-Japanese in the early 1990s entailed overcoming several challenges, including business know-how, financing and business relationships. Fortunately, having worked for two major international companies over the previous 13 years, I had the relevant experience, financial cushion and contacts to establish Newport. I contracted with key suppliers—including office space, bank, freight forwarder and warehouse–and launched the business within two months.

In Japan, the biggest challenge with starting a new business is finding capital. For Newport, I used a combination of personal savings and generous payment terms from my merchandise supplier to get through the first few years until bank loans became available.

The next obstacle was business competition. At that time, the common perception was that the average Japanese consumer valued brand over price. However, the off-shoring of consumer product manufacturing to Chinese factories was in full swing, and discount retail companies had already entered the market. In the low-priced consumer products sector, discount stores such as Don Quixote and Daiso were relatively new, leading to an unfulfilled demand for low-priced products. Our no-brand calculators, toys and kitchen goods sold well and allowed us to achieve nationwide sales coverage within only a few years. Unfortunately, markets do change, and within that time we were no longer competitive in the discount market. This necessitated a shift from selling low-priced goods to marketing branded products.

As a small-to-medium-sized enterprise, we succeed through innovation and rapid execution. In the constantly changing consumer products space, we can bring new brands to market incredibly quickly. One example is moving from a first-time meeting with a new LED light supplier to having their product in a retail chain in just five weeks. Although there are risks to being first-to-market, we use a “kaizen” development cycle to improve our ability to bring the right products to the right customers at the right time.

Beyond just selling consumer products, Newport has strived to be a sustainable corporation and has been ISO 14001-certified since 2002. ISO 14001 is an international standard that establishes a framework for an environmental management system within an organization. All Newport staff are members in one of eight teams working on various social, economic and environmental goals. In addition, we align each of our brands with relevant United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This balance between being successful and doing social good remains the bedrock of our company culture.

Thirty years later, Japan is still a wonderful place to do business. However, there is no shortage of challenges in finding the right business partners, employees and customers. Years ago, a colleague told me that success in the Japanese market comes from just avoiding the elephant’s feet: As long as you do not compete directly with the big players, there was plenty of space to operate—especially if you were agile and creative. Though the markets and elephants may have changed, the concept remains true for small and medium sized companies. The spaces between the elephants’ feet remain full of opportunity.

- Kevin McAuliffe, CEO

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