Scooters are part of growing up for children in the United States, Britain, Australia and other countries. But they are not yet a common sight in Japan.
Two mothers -- one British, the other Japanese -- are working to change that. Karen Ferreira-Cosentino and Yumiko Gertler, whose children attend the same pre-school, decided there was a niche market in Japan for safe scooters and established Micro-Scooter Japan Corp in early 2009 to distribute the award-winning, Swiss designed products from Micro-Mobility in Switzerland in Japan online direct to consumers and through specialty stores.
Japan Today reporter Tara Kim meets the two ladies to hear more.
How did you two get to know each other?
Karen: Our daughters attend the same pre-school. During summer school, we were in a park in Tokyo; we started talking and learned that our children went to the same class, so we became friends and our daughters are best friends.
When did you start this business? And why?
Yumiko: About 6 or 7 months ago.
Karen: I had a scooter which is very very popular in England for my daughter when she was 2 years old. But she couldn’t use it at all. All the other children were scooting around very well but not her, so I decided to buy her one of these mini-scooters. She soon got used to it and was joining her friends. So, of course, we brought it to Japan when we moved here, which was three years ago, and she uses it all the time here.
Yumiko: At that time, you couldn’t find or buy such scooters in Japan.
Karen: So we started to think why they don’t have them in Japan and we decided to import them so that other mothers and their children could be able to enjoy them, too.
What makes the scooter so popular?
Karen: In my opinion, it is a unique scooter. It is the perfect first-time scooter because it is well balanced and very easy to use. Also to me, it is the perfect choice for parents. Every time you are outside with your child, for example, you have to go from A to B. Small children can't walk very fast, and you get slowed down. So the scooter is perfect for a 2-year-old. It makes the child feel independent and excited. They enjoy going with you to do the shopping and all the other things a parent has to do, and it is more fun.
Yumiko: We don't have any real competitors currently, so we think we can make it a successful business.
What were the biggest challenges in getting this business started?
Karen: For me, it was the language. No matter how much Japanese I learn, it is just not good enough. Many of the meetings we had at the beginning were in Japanese, so Yumiko had to do it. And she has two children, so it was tough.
Yumiko: And my English is not good enough to do business sometimes, so my husband Michael has to translate for us. But to me, the biggest challenge was finding a balance between looking after the children and getting this business started.
Karen: I have one daughter, so while she is at school, I work in the morning, but not after I pick her up. After she goes to bed, I try and get a bit more done.
Yumiko: I hired a helper to take care of my younger one, so I can do some work during that time. Having an iphone helps a lot because you can check all the emails without having to rush back home.
How many scooters have you sold so far? How much do they cost?
Karen: About 600 now. At the beginning, we started selling them on Amazon, and that was a big success for us. A lot of Japanese use Amazon in Japan, so we didn’t need to do any advertising. Now we are also selling on Rakuten, and some other stores which buy the products from us.
We have two types of the scooters. There is the three-wheeled mini micro-scooter for children aged 2-5, and that costs 9,800 yen. The other is the maxi micro-scooter for older children, 6-10 years old, and that costs 14,800 yen. We also sell the Micro G-Bike Plus balance bike for 17,400 yen.
Are your customers mainly foreign mothers or Japanese mothers? How about fathers?
Karen: On Amazon, it is almost all Japanese. We have made a lot of sales through our daughters’ international school. There are a lot of foreign parents, mostly Japanese mothers and foreign fathers. Because this scooter is a foreign product that is very popular overseas, we were expecting more foreign customers, but in fact, our customers are mainly Japanese. So that’s why Yumiko is busier.
As for fathers, I have no idea. On Amazon or Rakuten, the buyers' names are mostly female, but the bank account names are usually a male’s name.
What do you think is the uniqueness of this product?
Karen: It is very easy to use. You cannot turn the handle backward or forward; you can only swing it. You can control it just by leaning and you won’t fall down. So it is the most stable scooter and very safe.
How do you market the scooters? For example, do you advertise online or in magazines?
Karen: We’ve done some magazine ads, but mother-to-mother advertising is the best.
If anybody reading this story wants to buy the scooter, how do they do it? And how long does it take to arrive?
Karen: You can either order it from our website or get it from Amazon and Rakuten. Or you can go to some of the stores which have our products in Yokohama and Tokyo, such as Tokyu Hands.
If you live in Tokyo, it will take about two days for delivery after you purchase it. If you live outside of Tokyo, usually it will take 3-5 days. But at Christmastime, we were very busy and actually made deliveries in one day.
Are you planning to open a shop?
Karen: No. We are doing good through the Internet and the stores.
For more information, visit http://www.microscooters.co.jp/en/home© Japan Today