“UKTI and the British Embassy in Japan not only opens doors but opens the right doors for us while we expand our client base in Japan”
David Tonge, The Division – Design and Direction
David Tonge and Nicole Hodgkinson founded The Division in 2003 with the goal of combining many years of big-agency experience with the craftsman’s attention to detail. Based in the heart of London, they have an award winning design studio with a multi-lingual team of gifted designers and a network of trusted partners. They have built an international reputation while working with the biggest brands and also with energetic start-ups.
How did this fascinating company come to choose Japan as one of their export markets?
“From the beginning we knew that if we were based in London, we would have to work overseas due to the lack of local opportunities for our skill set. We felt if we are to work anywhere at least at the beginning it should be the best place for craft and manufacturing, a place we would enjoy visiting, plus a place we know a lot about… hence Japan,” says David Tonge, who oversees Design and Direction of the brand.
The Division is a success story, but market entry was slow, Tonge said. “We started by making ‘research’ trips, organising meetings to show our work, and listening. These trips turned into offers of work (after 3-4 years!) and then it snow-balled. But it has always been supplemented with organised visits and seminars, for example.”
UKTI Japan has proved to be a useful service for the company. “We have worked with UKTI in Japan three times. It has been a very good experience for us and we are always planning the next time to use the OMIS service. Independently we have met over a 1000 people in Japan over the years. So we use the UKTI to find clients we haven’t been able to meet, or to take a new direction based on their recommendation. The service is efficient, the contacts we get are the right ones, and the information we receive is precise, allowing us to make decisions about our business direction and quantify the value of our investment. It continues to be a great addition to our usual business development in Japan and the cost of the service has been paid back many times with resultant client projects and good market information.”
The company is not resting on its laurels, however, and future plans include formalising their planning and advice services as well as actual design to extend their reach with both existing and potential clients.
With their significant expertise in Japan, Tonge reveals his top tips for success in Japan: “Be clear about your service and why it’s unique. Don’t be afraid to be British! And be creative, it’s what they want to buy.” He continues, “Being in Japan often, building relationships, making an effort with the culture and language is key. So many people believe they can show up, have a meeting and then the work will come. Perhaps this might happen once or twice but it’s not sustainable. Like anywhere you do business, you need to put the hours in so be realistic about the effort and costs involved.”
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