Enterprising moms cash in on micro-scooters

By Tara Kim

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

© Japan Today

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These scooters are different (I have never seen a scooter like this before) and as a parent -if your kids are happy, you are happy.

I wish you the best in your business venture. >Badsey<

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How wonderful. It’s hard enough trying not to fall over the rats on strings (pocket “dogs”), though thankfully most of late seem to get carried everywhere. Now we can all look forward to bigger rats on wheels with mummy in protection mode just behind, shopping will so much more fun. And no, children are not sacrosanct, they are wonderful in their place and whizzing about on wheels at two years old in and around shops is not their place.

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Too bad most sidewalks in Japan are in questionable condition if not non-existent all together.

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When do kids have time to play in Japan? From 4 they have school, school activities and then after school lessons. 7 days a week.

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These scooters really are the best! Both my 2 year and and my 4 year old ride these- they are safe (even on Tokyo sidewalks) and a great alternative to strollers! Kudos to the enterprising moms who were smart enough to bring these to Japan!

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These were in Japan a few years back, really popular too but the cheaper 2 wheel version pretty much took over. I have used one of these before and are quite good.

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Expensive plastic.

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Good luck to them,but it is not as easy as it seems. To start this sort of business you need finance or guarentees from family or friends. I know from personal experince how difficult it is to raise funds in Japan.

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Steve, it sounds like they are already in business. They're just acting as the distributer for Japan. The scooter is manufactured in Switzerland by another company. So these ladies have no manufacturing costs, no buildings to lease, and (so far) no employees to pay. Their only expenses appear to be buying the scooters from Switzerland, shipping them back out to the end-user, and advertising fees on Amazon and Rakuten. It would only take a modest mark-up per unit to cover those expenses plus put some pocket change in the ladies' pocketbooks.

A classic case of identifying a niche-need and filling it. Sadly, their success will probably only be short-lived, as the larger chains will notice their popularity and sell the same product for a lower price (economy of scale means they'll probably get a lower per-unit quote from the maufacturer). If the ladies were smart, they'd have worked out an exclusive agreement with the manufacturer so the chain stores have to purchase through them, but that rarely happens.

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Get in. Get it while the gettin's good and get out. Sole distributorship will carry them until the local biggies take this concept nationally and the manufacturing to, well... you get the idea.

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Actually looks like from their website these guys say they are the official exclusive distributor. we bought one for our daughter online and they seem to have a decent sized operation going here so this mum thing might be a bit of good marketing. I also see they are already at Tokyo Hands in Shibuya. anyway our daughter loves hers so well done to them for bringing them here. good luck to them.

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"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." That is so wrong it is funny!

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I thought similiar mini-scooters would go over well here. Possibly the problem is/was that this town is sort of beside the Okanagan Lake steep uphill to a flatter part used for the business people to schols to hospital, unfortunately not being used according to the B.C. Govt, along with some condos to normal home lots THEN uphill again to another lot of homes.

True we do not have many sidewalks (kids can use the mini-scooters on them) so only a few around the schools & the business area. So kids are forced to use the paved roads & guess parents are worried about their children & the crazy sort of car/truck drivers plus all the time they have been pumping into the kids to NOT GO ON THE ROAD.

Possibly that was the failure of them, yet parents to kids, to grandparents use the roads for their evening/daily walk along with a child or two. Hauling a mini-scooter up-hill would be a down-fall in the latter.

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Sorry I missed the one point being I hope more will have their kids using helmets as hard as they are able to fit properly, though young kids with bicycles even with trainer wheels will wear halmets SINCE it is pretty well established that the kids, besides the parents on bicycles to yes the m/c riders must wear proper helmets.

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I wonder if the recent law change making bicycle helmets mandatory for children under the age of 13 covers these scooters too. Not that anyone in Japan would acknowledge such a law. I notice the picture shows 50% wearing helmets, but the national figure for wearing bicycle helmets would be less than 1%.

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