I am in Tokyo as I write this column. I adjusted quite easily to the 14-hour time difference, and the 12-hour flight wasn’t so bad. To prepare for my trip, I did internet research, read books, and watched movies. Even so, I feel like a fish out of water. The Japanese culture, language, and food are so different from that of the U.S., yet I love being here. We should never be afraid to step outside of our comfort zones (or time zones).
As WEVA Public Relations Chairperson, I’ve come to present "The Power of Video" in Tokyo and Osaka. Yoshi Kohara, the Association of Bridal Consultants’ (ABC) director of Asian marketing, saw me present "The Power of Video" at the ABC National Conference in Orlando, Fla., last November. As I was walking out the door, Kohara stopped me and asked if I wanted to present in Japan. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said, "Yes!"
I was asked to be the main speaker at the 8th Annual ABC Japanese Bridal Conference. They made me feel like a rock star. After one of two presentations I made, for dramatic effect, I entered the back of the darkened room as a spotlight followed me to the stage. The 100 attendees clapped after I did my opening greeting in Japanese. After my 2-hour presentation (the rest of which I did through a translator), we went outside for a group photo. I was then approached to take many group and individual photos.
One of the other seminars at the Japanese conference covered the wedding trends of 2008. The Japanese are very interested in the American wedding market. Kohara presented the seminar by talking about what is new in dresses, flowers, cakes, lighting, wedding venue sites, mother of the bride dresses, etc.
It was then time for the marketing panel. As I sat in the back listening, the translator filled me in on what was being said. Currently, the Japanese wedding market is struggling as business is down. The worsening economy is affecting everyone. The Japanese are paying about $1.50 per liter for gas (or $6 for a little more than one gallon). All wedding professionals are struggling to find new customers.
Kohara said the hotels hold the power when it comes to wedding vendors. Each wedding vendor must pay a kickback referral fee (sometimes up to 40% or more) or a commission in order to be referred by a hotel. I attended live wedding demonstrations at two hotels with Kohara, and each hotel had its own photography studio on-site complete with backdrops, props, and scenery. There is only one wedding vendor for each service at each hotel, and he or she pays a large commission to be there.
The problems with the single-referral system are twofold: If one company gets all of a given hotel’s referral business, that prevents new vendors from getting jobs, and often the photographer referred by the hotel isn’t the best person for the job—it’s the person who pays the biggest referral fee. When a bride chooses a hotel to get married in, she gets a list of preferred vendors. If she wants to bring in her own vendor, she must pay even more. Due to cost, the bride typically chooses the vendor the hotel recommends.
This is starting to become a problem for some hotels because when a couple receives inferior service, they are unhappy. An unhappy couple is unlikely to return to that hotel or refer their friends to that hotel. Kohara is trying to change the mind-set of the Japanese hotel industry. This is no small feat; changes are happening inch by inch. At the conference, there were ABC members, hotel catering staff, and other wedding vendors listening to the same message.
Shizuka Kako of the Funai Sogo Kenkyujo Institute (the name translates into Overall Research Institute) said having a website is important in marketing. She said to find your niche or be a specialist in one area to stand out. She advised attendees to find their strengths and focus on them. Michie Arayama of the Q.E.D. Club bridal office gave this advice to the young entrepreneurs: She said it is very important to respond to your clients’ needs; she told the bridal consultants they need to meet plenty of quality vendors and remain current on wedding trends. She also said it’s not "one person" who creates a wedding; it’s a team effort.
Megumi Yamamoto of Eclat said having a good relationship with your clients is very important, as is having a website. She said she found a wedding vendor in her own town through the internet. If not for the website, she would have never met this person, even though they were in the same town.
Shizuka Kako concluded by saying the most important thing you can do as a bridal consultant or wedding vendor is to make your client happy. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s one of the most important things a business owner can do.
If I had closed my eyes and listened to this marketing discussion, I would have sworn I was back in the U.S. Even though our cultures are different, the ways Americans and the Japanese advocate treating our customers and marketing ourselves is the same. We may be worlds apart geographically and culturally, but underneath it all, we are more similar than different—especially those of us in the same business.
In my next column, I’ll revisit this topic and discuss what the videographers had to say.
Kris Malandruccolo (kris at elegantvideosbykris.com), an EventDV 25 honoree and 2007 WEVA Hall of Fame inductee, is the owner of Chicago-based Elegant Videos by Kris and Elegant Storybooks by Kris. She is a certified Master Wedding Vendor through the Association of Bridal Consultants, WEVA Public Relations Chair, an international speaker, and past-president of the Illinois Videographers Association.