One is customer service. I emphasize this in all my entrepreneur classes and to my clients. Customer service is the most cost-effective, and probably least expensive way to differentiate your company from your competition. It is so important, and like marketing, often an afterthought to everything else a busy entrepreneur or business is focused on. But here’s the big secret: Customers remember customer-service! Often customer service tips the scales in favor of the company providing it. Whether it’s a sole proprietor or a Fortune 500 company.
Natori has multiple licensees but when a customer calls customer service, they do not know which product has been licensed – nor should they. This is due to keeping a unified brand within the fashion house. Customer service at Natori is trained to answer all questions about all products, irrelevant of the source (licensed or in-house). This makes for a seamless experience for the customer – how it should be.
Another distinguishing characteristic at Natori, is that Josie, the founder, came out of a Wall Street background, as does Ken. The result is that they understand first and foremost that fashion is a business. And they treat the company as a business. Ken emphasized this point when he spoke to my licensing class, in order to separate Natori from typical fashion houses which are often known for high drama. The culture at Natori, while still high fashion, is much more sedate and drama-free. Sounds like a nice place to work.
Which leads me to my closing point: Natori is currently looking for a junior person to work in their licensing department. Know anyone? Are you that person? If so, Ken wants to hear from you: [email protected]
On Monday, May 5, Ken Natori guest spoke at my Licensing class (CEO 035). He generously spent an hour and a half talking about his company, founded by his mother, Josie Natori, and answering questions on all aspects of licensing posed by the class.
First – what is the Natori brand:
Natori uses its brand equity to build East-meets-West lifestyle brands including ready-to-wear, accessories, bedding, towels, fragrance, home fragrance, swim, eyewear, and more
Natori is one of the few companies that has retained its ownership in a world of mergers, buyouts, etc. This has allowed them, among other things, to maintain their own vision and control over their products and licensing procedures.
There were two things Ken brought up that really left a strong impression on me and the class. The first was related to his business ethics. When asked about who his licensees are and how he selects them, Ken brought up a simple, but powerful, equation: Partner over Product. This means the people he does business with are the most important element of licensing. By choosing the right partner, Natori is establishing a long term relationship with each licensee. This philosophy is similar to putting together a management team: licensing is like a marriage. You are in it for the long-term. Licensing is an ongoing dynamic relationship that, if done well, and Natori does it well, goes on for years. Translation: a win-win relationship that grows business (for both the licensee and licensor) while maintaining the brand.
Because of Natori’s relationship with their licensees (win-win and long term), the licensees have an in-depth understanding of both the company and the brand. This fosters on-target contributions for new product ideas as well as new vertical opportunities.
The other thing Ken brought up that left an equally strong impression was also related to business ethics. Natori built and owns its own manufacturing plant overseas. Not only does this make business sense and allow the company to keep control over the quality of the manufacture of many of their products, but equally, and some would say more importantly, Natori controls the circumstances and pay of their overseas employees. This methodology completely sidesteps the human rights issues (aka sweatshops) commonly found in overseas garment manufacturing. As a result, Natori’s stance makes them a green company by virtue of their humane treatment of their employees.
My next post will cover more elements that distinguish Natori from its competitors.