English roses are a perennial favorite among flower lovers all over the world. Japan is no exception, as David Austin Roses, a British company that has specialized in breeding of roses for 50 years, has found.
Japan Today hears from Luke Stimson, Asian director for David Austin Roses, on how the business is doing in Japan.
What is your background?
Retail and business management. I have been with David Austin Roses since 2004. I initially managed the UK sales as wholesale manager. I introduced David Austin Roses to Russia and Ukraine in 2006 and also took over Japan operations that year when our agent here went bankrupt. I took on management of the U.S. operation from 2007 until 2009 when I decided to accept the post of Asian director based in Osaka.
What is David Austin Roses’ history in Japan?
We started here in 1993 with a licensed operation. A company called Rose of Roses was our sole licensee back then. This was the boom period for English companies and products. They did well and English roses became a known phenomena. The Takashimaya bag, for example, famous for its pink rose wreath on the white background, uses one of our English roses as its inspiration. We opened a direct office that started trading in May 2008 when our licensee failed to pay his dues and was forced into liquidation and it's been all go since.
How has business been so far this year?
Our year runs from Aug-July, so for 2009-2010, the Japanese operation finished well up on the previous year, turning over some 1.3 million pounds, which isn’t bad for its second year of trade. This year so far: retail is up, wholesale is running a bit later than normal as we had added many new services this year and it took time to get these right. All the signs are there that we are on track for another good year.
Globally, we have never been so busy. The biggest challenge we are facing are all the internal headaches that happen when a small-medium enterprise becomes a medium-size company with multiple offices. Things like personnel, IT, process management, etc, suddenly become more critical. Something that you thought two years ago that you will leave for now because you have more urgent matters to deal with, come back and bite you hard in the proverbial.
What is the image of English roses among Japanese consumers?
According to some of the ladies that follow our lectures, it's one of Hugh Grant or Colin Firth wearing just a pair of shorts out in a green garden, knee deep in soil, using words like "blast" and "whoops-y-daisy" as they are planting roses. However, I think the average image is probably a little more romantic, as the whole cottage garden style is one we very much promote and favor. The image of lazy afternoons in a quiet secluded green lawned garden, with buzzing of the bees in colorful flower beds and twittering song of birds is the quintessential view of an English garden.
Here in Japan, we love doing all we can to try and convey this passion for plants and the relaxation that a garden brings. We fully understand that space is a premium in Japan, so we instead encourage people in other ways. We love for people to grow roses on patios or balconies in whatever space the have. Doing this allows one to use their unique fragrance, flower shape and beauty in bouquets, for example, which enlivens and enriches any home.
How do you sell roses in Japan?
We sell directly to the public online at www.davidaustinroses.com. We also distribute our roses to over 600 retail garden centers and home stores nationwide in Japan. For the best advice, though, about your area, it is good to give our retail office a call on 0725-51-3324 as the office staff are very good at offering advice as to what varieties will work best for your circumstances.
Does your Japanese home page get a lot of hits each month?
Yes, we promote different roses each month, share stories about gardens shows and events, explain where we will be next, etc. We are actually making some huge changes to the site over the next few months, with "how to videos"’ and care guides about how best to look after your roses.
How knowledgeable would you say Japanese consumers are about rose varieties?
Generally, they're very good. The level of information available in Japan devoted to roses is huge, perhaps even too much so. We English are practical gardeners, meaning we don’t agonize too long about anything; we tend to get stuck in. And if we get it slightly wrong, so what? Bar accidentally poisoning your rose or not watering it for a week, you really will find it hard to kill these plants; they are exceptionally tough.
So, with this in mind I try to encourage people just to start with the basics:
1) Decent-sized pot, nothing smaller than 20L in size.
2) Water daily, at breakfast if possible, and never in the heat of the sun. If at night, take care not to spray water on the leaves.
3) If it gets too big, cut it to the size you want. If it's not big enough, don’t prune.
What varieties are most popular in Japan?
There are two big ones at the moment. One is Lady Emma Hamilton (Ausbrother), a fiery orange with a huge fruit fragrance. Everything about this rose is larger than life which was much like the lady herself in real life, so historians say. The second is Munstead wood (Ausbernard). The petals of this deep crimson rose are like the texture of velvet. It's short, easily controllable, perfect for growing in a pot, disease resistant and most importantly of all, has a huge antique or old rose fragrance.
Does the company grow roses in Japan or does everything come from abroad?
We grow here in Japan, employing six growers all over the country and we also import from abroad. It's about 65% imported, 35% domestic. This is mainly because of the lack of quality growers in Japan. We are careful, though, that we don’t distinguish the source of the roses in our selections. We believe a rose is either a quality rose or it is not; that is much more important than where it came from.
Is the flowering season in Japan shorter than in other countries?
I saw last year an average of four flushes from our container roses. They flowered in May, late June, mid August (albeit a small modest flower often different in color to the main flushes), and had another good flush in late September/October. Although the flowers don’t last as long as, say, England, because of the longer season here in parts of Japan, you can get later flowers appearing.
Are there any quarantine regulations for imported roses at Japanese airports that you would like to see simplified?
Aren’t there always? I actually think Japan’s system is the most reasonable and fairest I could ask for. It's tough as it should be on all the right things, like soils and bugs etc, but not as daft as New Zealand or Korean authorities who are frankly out of date, heavy handed and inconsistent in their controls.
For roses that do come from abroad, how long does it take for an order to be delivered?
Depending if it is potted already on our rose beds or if it is bare root (a plant sold with nothing – literally just the plant), each has its different cycle. Bare roots can be ordered anytime of the year and are delivered in the coolest part of the year, from Nov 1 until things get too hot, which varies from region to region but is March for a southern area like Kyoshu and May for somewhere like Hokkaido. Shipments are every month from the UK to our Japanese distribution center in that period. Potted roses are simpler; they are either marked as available or not: if they're online, they're good to go.
What projects are you working on?
We have plans for an English garden, tea room and Asian headquarters in Osaka. We have been in discussion with Sennan City and the Osaka prefectural government now for roughly a year in getting an agreement finalized that will allow us to commit to a site near Kansai Airport. It’s a lovely location, right off the main highway exit on the outskirts of Sennan City itself, with a gentle winding road that leads to a secluded hillside. It feels like a rural location, although the town is just five minutes away and is easily accessible. Perfect for a quiet beautiful garden with adjacent cafe serving tea and scones.
Do any of the Austin family come to Japan?
Mr Austin Sr is now 84, so I don’t think he will like the 11-hour flight. His son, also David, has been out numerous times, and attended this year's NHK Seibudome flower show, for example. He will certainly be out more, now the garden center is looking like it's going ahead.
How many staff work for David Austin Roses in Japan? Are you looking to expand?
Currently we employ directly seven staff and are looking for three more. We will need probably another 10-15 seasonal production staff this winter in Osaka and at least another 10-15 people when we open the coffee shop and garden center.
What is your area of responsibility?
I am ultimately responsible for the brand and its development in Asia & Pacific: These territories are China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. Each is so different in what they do that they require different management approaches. Japan is the only direct operation and takes up 90% of my time. This is too much to evolve the other territories sufficiently. Now that the Japanese branch has evolved to plan, I can now take on a GM to manage this for me while I establish operations more effectively in these other territories.
What is a typical day for you?
There is no typical day. That’s what I love about my job. In a space of a day, I might be shoulder deep in a country grower's cut flower glasshouse, looking at his crop to see if we want to grow cut flowers with him. I might move onto a retail garden center site to offer advice about presentation with our sales team and to check supplier standards. Then it could be to a meeting with NHK about promotion for Seibudome and what next to advertise in their many published editions.
I will probably need to answer emails at some point to Australia, New Zealand or Korea where I get the heaviest demand for business help, which varies hugely in nature from material demands through to product placement with chains. Then it's back to the office to see what’s come up that needs attention. Then the next day I might be off to Korea or wherever to see our suppliers, to ensure they too are progressing and that things are unfolding to plan. It’s a great job, certainly never dull.
For more information, visit www.davidaustinroses.com.© Japan Today