I am currently in Japan, and among other things I visit several shoe factories, which will be featured in various reports. First off is Scotch Grain, a relatively large modern factory in the outskirts of Tokyo’s shoe district Asakusa.
Asakusa is Tokyo’s well-known shoe center, where lots of mainly small companies that work with different types of shoes are up to date, and just on the other side of the Sumida river, Scotch Grain houses. Spread in three different buildings in the relatively low houses – offices, the preparation of soles and heels, and the larger main factory. However, all the buildings are within a radius of maybe 70 meters, and they all see each other in the lunch room in the main building every day. On one facade facing a major road, a billboard hangs from when the company celebrated its 50th anniversary recently. Scotch Grain is generally regarded as one of Japan’s most well-managed shoe factories, both physically and commercially. It is also noticeable when you come here. Their showroom is neat with a selection of their shoes on display. And the factory premises are equally neat, with a large proportion of new modern machines.
Hirokawa Shoes co. Ltd. which is the company behind the Scotch Grain brand, was founded in 1964. Today, the founder’s son, Masakazu Hirokawa, is the CEO of the company. He started working within the company 40 years ago, and has devoted his life to it.
“At that time we only made shoes for other brands, and it was both cemented, Blake and Goodyear welted. Since then, we have slowly but surely streamlined the business to where we are today, says Masakuzu Hirokawa.
He describes three different events over the years that were particularly important to the company. First of all, the launch of their own brand name Scotch Grain in 1978. It gave a completely different weight to the factory and better possibilities of controlling products and manufacturing, instead of being dependent on what others wanted from them. Since the turn of the millennium, Scotch Grain has been exclusively manufacturing for their own brand, no more private label, thus fully focusing on Goodyear welted shoes.
The second important point in the company’s history was when it opened its first own Scotch Grain store, this in 1990 in the Shinbashi district in the middle of Tokyo.
“With our own store, we both strengthened the brand, and obviously got bigger margins on what we sold ourselves. With the tough competition that we have in this market, it has been an important part of our success, “said Shigeru Suzuki, Director of supplies and manufacturing.
The shop moved a few kilometers north, to Ginza, and is still the company’s flagship store today. In addition, they have three more stores, two in Tokyo and one in Osaka, plus four outlet stores.
The start of the first outlet store in year 2000 counts as the third important event in the history of the company. Masakuzu Hirokawa explains:
“At that time we had a lot of stock, including a lot of old models and seconds that we could not get rid off in a good way. With the outlet stores we were able to make sure we really did, and still are today.”
Nowadays they sell about 80 per cent of all shoes they produce in their own stores, of which about 5 per cent are in their webshop. It is expected that this will take a larger share in the future. Apart from this, luxury stores like Isetan Men’s and Seiibu sell their shoes, the least expensive range priced at around €225 (30,000 yen). They have several different ranges which differs in construction detailing and materials, Odessa costs about €300 (40,000 yen), Imperial at about €450 (60,000 yen), and then an MTO range at €750 (100,000 yen).
Inside the leather storage room you will find leather lining from Bangladesh and a lot of Japanese tanned calf leather for the uppers, plus European skins for the more expensive lines. Along with the entire factory, there are at least two “lines” at each station, so you will never be stopped if, for example, a machine is to be repaired or similar. On these three floors they push through between 2,000-2,500 pairs of shoes a week, which is quite a lot, not far behind the major factories in Northampton, England.
“The fact that we now only manufacture Goodyear welted shoes and mainly for our own stores, gives us good efficiency and good control over the entire chain,” says Shigeru Suzuki, and concludes:
– That’s what makes us prepared for the future.
For those who wonder, the winners of last week’s competition will be presented on Sunday.