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Top>People>100 Yen Shop King: Chuo University's Ashita-no Joe?


Hirotake Yano

Mr. Hirotake Yano [Profile]

100 Yen Shop King: Chuo University's Ashita-no Joe?

One-on-One Combat with Deflation

Mr. Hirotake Yano
President, Daiso Sangyo Inc.

I like DIY and often go to a DIY center, but first, only after dropping in at the local 100 yen shop Daiso. Here, if you can find something to use or a suitable substitute, you will leave with the feeling of having found a bargain.
Incidentally, it has been 4 or 5 years since the head office opened a Daiso store on the second floor of one of its large-scale electric stores (Chiba City). In a sense, it is a rented store, and the landlord electric store is no longer there. Last year, the store closed its doors, leaving only the escalators. While the 2nd floor remains as busy as ever, the lower floor is desolate. It is quite unnerving to see such a sharp difference in fortunes. This is the appearance of the harsh landscape in a deflated economy.

At the head of Daiso (Daiso Sangyo) is owner-president Hirotake Yano, who graduated from the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University in 1966. He is one of Chuo University's economic men, a child of the era in which one gave one's all.
He appeared in Nihon Keizai Shimbun's relay corner column, Kokoro no Tamatebako (from November 16, 2009 onwards), and wrote about a few scenes from his life.
"My father firmly told me 'I'm not sending you to university unless you enter a science and engineering faculty with job prospects,' so I couldn't go to Keio University on a sport scholarship. At the time, to enter Keio on a sport scholarship, you could only enter the Faculty of Literature. I took a year off and failed entrance exams for all 16 universities I applied for. On my 17th attempt, I finally passed into Chuo University's 2nd section (night school) civil engineering department, but couldn't find decent employment, leading to a stormy life."
He mentions the words sport scholarship. He was actually a boxer in high school, a background that catches the eye in the 5 column series.
He started going to a gym in Hiroshima City from his first year at high school. In his second year, as a Hiroshima Prefectural representative, he took on Keio University in a match. His opponent was Testuro Kawai, amateur featherweight champion, Tokyo Olympic hopeful and future world ranked boxer. As Mr. Yano put it, "he went really easy on me." Before the bout, he was told to "come to Keio."
"I fought bravely against the champ without being knocked out" - and was then chosen for an Olympic conditioning camp (1964), but never made an appearance as a reserve fighter.
His stormy life in the following years reads as 9 job changes, one-time fleeing by night, and one fire. It's like an Ashita-no Joe. Not in appearance though. One report described him with droopy eyebrows, pudgy and friendly, like the popular character Tare Panda.
At university he formed the "wandervogel" club, and put more energy into his hiking than study. To pay for this, he spent his days working part time for commission by selling bananas at rock bottom prices. He recollects with a smile, "I was only wearing rubber-soled socks at the time. I'd skip all my classes. When I did go to school, I was wearing those socks. It felt good walking around Tokyo and the hills of Suidobashi in them. People would stare at me and say, "What's with his outfit?"

Daiso become a true retail store chain in the 1990s. An older report in Aera magazine's Gendai no Shocho (July 31, 2000) gives a vivid description of the company at the time.
"The president's office is under the stairs. Basically a dark closet. But President Yano is hardly ever at his desk. Wearing one of his company's 100 yen neckties and walking around in 100 yen slippers, he spends the day circling the company floor conducting business." (Now the building has been renovated with a new annex building).

Let's pick up a few quotes from magazines regarding his business philosophy.
"There might be an earthquake, inflation may skyrocket. You never know what is going to happen. On top of that, we carry the fate that customers might get tired of our products. There's no such thing as the good life lasting forever."
(When asked about the cause of failure) "You can ask me what causes it.but everything has its failings. There are many causes of failure."
(When asked if he still fears expansion) "I'm scared. Recently I've started to think that whatever will be, will be, because we have come so far. Well, in the end, I could be bought out by a trading firm or large distribution company."
This sounds like a rule of life containing some philosophical views. So he gives himself a strict and strong self-evaluation.
When asked to give a lecture on how to win over tough customers at a seminar hosted by a certain newspaper company, he refused by saying, "There's no way to win over tough customers, even if they win over us." That story was told in Value Creator (November, 2009).

While there are many people voicing their surprise by saying, "This is only 100 yen? That's too cheap!," the company also hears, "100 yen is too expensive for this. I saw the same thing going for 98 yen at the supermarket."
This kind of talk is symbolic of the deep deflationary times we face.
That is where Yano's unique philosophy that self-negating companies will pull through stands out.
Self-negation - oh, it is the theme for the united front generation. Some people may have nostalgic feelings for that.
"At any rate, it is important to accumulate self-negation and continue to think 'what have I done?' in the 21st century. The climate has changed, so we must change as well." (Nikkei Business. Nikkei BP magazine-book, July 30, 2008).
The self-negation business revolution. In saying that, we can now see products selling for 200 and 300 yen. 2008 saw the debut of the newly designed Cool Daiso in Aeon Lake Town, in Koshigaya City, Saitama. This store deals in products ranging from 100 to 1800 yen and ranks second only to Jusco, in terms of shoppers visiting the store. Putting his joy aside, Yano comments as follows:
"In the 21st century, huge expansion will become an extinct term. We have to be content just to be functioning. We've had it too good so far. We've earned too much compared to the amount of effort we have actually put in. At one stage last year I even considered retiring. But with the Lehman Brothers shock, strong yen and sudden drop in business results overseas, we have been put back to square one. Through that, I was strangely rejuvenated. All employees and clients have to return to the atmosphere of our early days when we had no trading partner." (Nikkei Business, October 19, 2009)
One-on-one combat with deflation - has the spark in the fighter finally been lit?

Hirotake Yano
President of Daiso Sangyo
Born in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1943. After failure in a cultivation enterprise on leaving Chuo University, he worked as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman and wastepaper collector during a string of 9 different jobs. Started a mobile variety store business in 1972 and began dealing in 100 yen products. Established Daiso Sangyo in 1977 and opened the first permanent 100 yen shop in 1987. Now there are 2,570 stores nationwide and over 510 stores in 24 countries.