The Heart of a 500 Year Old Family Business (Part 2)

In Toraya’s English webpage, the first clearly documented reference to Toraya is an existing temple records from 1600. There are also records dated September 15, 1635 that provide a glimpse into the company’s business at the time of proprietor Enchu Kurokawa’s death. I will walk the reader and articulate each of Toraya’s longevity principles as manifested in their 500 years of existence.

No. 1 It Is Important to Focus on the Present

Toraya’s current president, Kurokawa Mitsuhiro, the seventeenth to take the helm, does not spend too much time dwelling on his company’s illustrious past.  Kurokawa believes focus on what needs to be done now, rather than simply following the ways of the past, is what has kept Toraya in business all these years and also allowed it to preserve many of its traditions.

According to him, “It’s mere hindsight for us to ponder why Toraya has been around for so long.  What’s important is not the past or even the future, but the present. It comes down to doing what needs to be done to create the sort of sweets that customers will like.”

This flexibility may have something to do with the fact that there are no set-in-stone Kurokawa “family precepts” to be passed down from father to son. When Kurokawa Mitsuhiro took over from his own father, back in 1991, he realized the freedom and responsibility that came with the position: “Since there were no precepts, it was basically: Do what you like—it’s all up to you now.”

Thus, Kurokawa asserts that choice, not circumstances, determines success.  As Geoffrey Gaberino, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist says, “The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re  capable of doing.  You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.”

It might sound overly simplistic, but if you’re going to sell something successfully, it better be worth the price tag.  This is another longevity formula for success that the Toraya Company holds on to.

No. 2 The Goal is to Be Relevant And Authentic

Temple records dated September 15, 1635 showed a list of 20 types of confectionery that Toraya (literally, “tiger store”)  served to the Empress Meisho on the occasion of her visit to her father’s court of retirement.  In 2003, the company opened its first Toraya Café in the fashionable Roppongi Hills building in Tokyo, featuring a lineup of sweets that combine elements of wagashi and Western confectioneries to create a whole new taste category.

The company’s effort to cultivate a taste for wagashi is not limited to overseas; it is also doing its utmost to foster demand among Japan’s younger generation, which has become more familiar with European-style confectionaries than home-grown ones.

No. 3 Product Centric

Matsudaira Naritada, head of Toraya’s Public Relations Division, explains that the firm is always developing new namagashi and other sweets—a process that takes around three years for each item. But Toraya only introduces a sweet once it has complete confidence in the new creation—without relying on customer feedback along the way to make adjustments.

Because the namgashi lineup is always changing, including the appearance of brand-new items, each visit to a Toraya shop promises a novel encounter. And the items selected have a connection to the particular time of the year, both in their design and in the ingredients they contain.

To be continued…

(esoriano@wongadvisory.com)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s