If you’re serious about your cooking and you take pride in your kitchenware, the chances are high that there are some products from Zwilling J.A. Henckels in your kitchen.
The German company, which is especially known for its high-end knives, has a 281-year history. Having opened its first office in Osaka in 1973, Zwilling is now well known among chefs, housewives and cooking enthusiasts.
Heading the operations in Japan is American Andrew Hankinson. Born in Seattle, Hankinson has been in Japan for about 22 years. He started his career as a buyer in menswear for Tobu department store, and most recently was president for 10 years at an office products company. He took over Zwilling J.A. Henckels Japan in January of this year.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Hankinson at his office in Shibuya to hear more.
What are the various brands you are selling in Japan?
We have several brands: Zwilling, Henckels, Staub, Miyabi, Demeyere and Tweezerman. However, we are most know in Japan for our premium knifes and also increasingly for our Staub cast iron brand. Zwilling is a German company but it’s interesting to know that a majority of the Zwilling knives that are sold in Japan are actually made in Japan, not Germany. We have a factory in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, where we manufacture Zwilling branded knives. Zwilling knives are available at all major department stores, specialty stores and at our Zwilling outlet stores.
Then we have our Henckels branded knifes – we sell them through home centers and GMS such as Aeon, Ito Yokado, etc. Henckels knives are for somebody who likes the brand, appreciates quality but who is a bit price conscious.
Besides knives, we have Zwilling stainless steel cookware, gadgets for the kitchen and beauty tools. It seems everyone has Zwilling nail clippers or scissors.
Staub, a line of cast iron and ceramic cookware is from France; we bought the company in 2008. And last, we have the world’s best stainless steel cookware brand named Demeyere, which is from Belgium. We are just launching it through Isetan.
How well known are the products in Japan?
Our products are very well known. However, most Japanese recognize our twins logo and assume it’s the Henckels logo. But the twins logo is actually the Zwilling logo. Thus, I often have to correct them or explain the difference. Whenever I mention I work for Zwilling, most Japanese usually say: “Oh, I have one of your knives or clippers, or scissors.”
Staub cookware has been very successful in the professional channels - 80% of restaurants, hotels already use Staub cast iron for cooking. That professional acceptance has started to reach regular consumers and the popularity is really increasing. In May this year, the Nikkei gave us the No. 1 ranking for cookware in Japan.
How do you market the various brands?
Last year, we did some satellite TV advertising basically to get the brand awareness out there. Our aim is build “Top of mind awareness,” so that when you think of a kitchen knife, we want you to immediately think of Zwilling. We also sponsored a TV program related to food preparation.
I’m a big supporter of social media. We have a Facebook page for both Staub and Zwilling with over 15,000 likes. Word of mouth is huge for us, especially with Staub. We have a lot of bloggers, chefs, and "ryorika" who promote us on their websites or through their culinary-related events.
Do you hold events?
Yes, we hold a lot of cooking events and demonstrations. The demonstrations are important to explain the benefits of our products, with knives people can experience the difference a sharp knife makes, can feel the grip and balance of the knives. We do the events in stores and at our outlets. We do tie-ups with power bloggers and we sponsor chef Mario Frittoli’s cooking lessons.
As part of our “Top of Mind” awareness slogan, Zwilling is very active in promoting knife after-sales service. We offer knife sharpening classes at our Pro Knife Center in Kappabashi, and we aired a series of knife-cutting techniques on a TV show called “Sharp & Delicious.” We are also very active in promoting our sharpening stones and their use through our literature and website.
Where are your products sold?
We have 10 outlet stores, and plan to have 12 by the end of the year. We do direct business with Isetan and Mitsukoshi and all the other major department stores throughout Japan. Since we have a good a sales track record, getting dedicated space in department stores is not as difficult as it might be for other foreign brands. Our challenge is to make sure we have enough events and campaigns to keep the momentum going. With knives especially, you really need a salesperson to explain the benefits of a superior knife in order to sell. We train department store staff and we have our own staff in some stores.
What is your best-selling brand?
Definitely our Zwilling brand. Our sales are doing very well and we attribute that to our tagline, “Passion for the best.” The Twin Fin is our best-selling knife. It is light, hygienic, uses special-formula steel and offers great value for money.
Every year, we develop a couple of brand-new knife series based on results of market research. For example, housewives wanted a lightweight all stainless steel knife that was dishwasher safe and well-balanced, so we developed the Zwilling Sense series for this year.
Did last year’s March 11 disaster affect your business?
Like everyone else, there was a downturn in sales, but we saw a trend toward home cooking and home parties. People are enjoying home life more … and when they are cooking at home, they want quality. Our knives have a lifetime guarantee; they are like an investment. Consumers are tending to trade up for quality items and these factors have helped us recover quickly from the March disaster.
Where do you see the biggest growth potential?
Two areas: Market size wise, the biggest growth opportunity for us is in stainless steel cookware. The other area is Staub cast iron cookware; we are gaining a lot of market share from our competitors. Quality never goes out of style and with Staub, consumers are discovering that functional, quality cookware is a great investment over fashion cookware.
Can we buy your products online?
Yes, you can order from our online store at zwilling.jp or Amazon.
Do you visit department stores often?
Yes, I do. I stop by wherever I know our products are being sold. It’s also important to see what the competition is doing in the same space. I visit our outlet stores almost every week as well. I also often drop by unannounced on the weekends to our shops to support our staff and give advice on operations.
What is a typical day for you?
I get here about 8:30. In the mornings, I try to take care of things in the office and in the afternoons, visit the stores or meet customers and partners. I am very hands on at the point of sales. We have a great sales team, so I can delegate a lot to them.
Are you at home in the kitchen?
I love cooking. And using quality tools makes it even more enjoyable. At home, I have five different knives. If I’m cutting a vegetable, I’ll use one knife. If I am cutting a fillet, I’ll use another one. I have four Staub products. What I am doing now is a dream job. Even when I go to a restaurant, I try to see what knives the chefs are using. Even though I am relatively new to this job, I might lack some experience in our industry, but nobody can question my passion.© Japan Today