Japanese stationery brand Kakimori is leaving a paper trail to global success
Nestled in the heart of Kuramae town, amidst a thriving community of boutique store owners dedicated to preserving the art of analog culture, one unique establishment stands out: Kakimori, a boutique stationery store that is on a poignant mission.
First established in 1961 as a commercial office stationery supplier, the brand has come a long way since Takuma Hirose was named managing director, and founded the Kuramae store in 2010. The boutique stationery store’s artisanal aesthetic emerged from a simple idea conceived by its founder: to connect people through the act of writing in an increasingly digitalized world.
As Hirose eloquently puts it, "I believe that as the speed of digitalization increases, people's thirst for analog technology is also spreading."
Embracing writing as analog art and technology
At Kakimori, the philosophy behind their products is as unique as the stationery they offer. Hirose shares that at Kakimori, the team has a selective approach to ensure that every item on their shelves is chosen carefully, focusing on how comfortable it is to use and whether it can be embraced with love by their customers.
One of Kakimori's signature offerings is their made-to-order notebooks. Customers have the unique experience of handpicking different components before their personalized notebooks are bound by the skilled hands of Kakimori's staff. With over 60 cover types ranging from solid hues to intricate decorative designs and 30 varieties of paper to choose from, customers are spoilt for choice. An array of rings, ribbons, and fasteners in an appealing palette of colors are also provided to further enhance the personal touch.
Beyond notebooks, Kakimori boasts a captivating selection of glass pens and a rainbow spectrum of colored inks. Here, customers have the opportunity to become ink artists themselves. Patrons can select up to three tints from a range of 14 pigment-based inks, to create their very own custom ink color.
Expertly guided by color charts and knowledgeable staff, customers can experiment with various proportions and test their creations on paper until they find the hue that perfectly suits their preferences. This unique inksperimentation process often leads to delightful and unexpected discoveries, adding an element of excitement to the act of writing.
Kakimori's commitment to personalized stationery doesn't stop at ink; it extends to their aesthetic and ergonomic product design. Their ink bottles, for instance, are elegantly shaped like droplets, drawing inspiration from the Japanese word "potari," which refers to a falling drop.
Kakimori’s products are also meticulously crafted with the consumer experience in mind. Their ink bottles boast generous 20-millimeter-wide openings, and are angled at a tilted eight degrees to enable easy dipping while avoiding damage to delicate nibs. The shallow depth also facilitates effortless refilling of converters, keeping pens clean from unwanted ink spills.
A blot in the journey
Running a business as niche and unconventional as Kakimori came with its own challenges. The store struggled with almost no customers in their first year of business.
This changed when Kuramae town, where Kakimori was located, began to develop into a trend center for artisanal businesses. From artisanal chocolates and coffee to leather goods, the area transformed into a hub for distinctive shops, each driven by passion rather than profit.
The shared commitment to passion and authenticity among the businesses in Kuramae town created a unique ecosystem of mutual support and friendly competition. In the spirit of camaraderie, the stores in the area began to connect and collaborate, sharing knowledge and expertise to enhance each other's offerings.
More than a physical store or retail destination, Kakimori had begun to brand itself as an immersive experience, where customers could revel in the tactile pleasure of paper, pens and ink.
Quills to clicks
This all seemed to come to a standstill during the Covid-19 pandemic, when Kakimori faced the grim reality that their cherished in-store experience was not viable in the face of lockdown and the limited in-person interactions.
"Our business was all about inviting customers to our shop to savor the joy of stationery. We knew that reevaluating our approach and making changes was inevitable," admitted Hirose.
Rather than taking the Covid-19 pandemic as a hit, the small business seized the opportunity to start developing products they could no longer easily import from other countries due to import and regulatory restrictions. This transformed Kakimori from a quaint retail store into a dynamic manufacturing and retailing powerhouse.
Transitioning to e-commerce was the business’ next natural step. Yet, their journey from the page to the screen came with hurdles. Kakimori dealt with delicate products, including fragile glass pens, which posed a significant challenge in terms of shipping. Additionally, the ink they offered, while essential to their craft, was sometimes classified as a hazardous material for air transportation.
To surmount these obstacles, Kakimori struck up a strategic partnership with DHL Express. This collaboration was built on the foundation of ensuring the safe and secure transportation of Kakimori’s delicate products.
DHL Express provided assistance to navigate arduous regulatory paperwork and documentation, ensuring smooth customs clearance and safe transit for products. Furthermore, the DHL team also introduced Kakimori to their DHL Express Commerce (DEC) solution, which streamlines shipping processes by seamlessly integrating logistics solutions with customers’ e-commerce platforms. This meant that customers could manage their shipping and logistics options directly on platforms such as Shopify.
“In this ever-changing business landscape, adaptability defines success," said Tony Khan, President and Representative Director, DHL Express Japan. "We are honored to support Kakimori in sharing their exquisite stationery with enthusiasts worldwide. And with the DEC solution streamlining the shipping process on integrated e-commerce platforms, we hope to continue supporting small boutique businesses in Japan in their transition to e-commerce."
To better support Kakimori’s foray into global e-commerce, DHL also assisted Kakimori in reflecting Japanese shipping information used for domestic e-commerce purposes in English for Air Waybill, a document that accompanies goods shipped by an international air courier to provide detailed information about the shipment.
The brand has since expanded its footprint worldwide. Apart from Asian countries like China, Korea and Taiwan, Kakimori is reaching distant shores with shipments to the US, France, England and other European countries.
But true to his heart as a Japanese artisan, Hirose remains mindful of preserving the essence that made the store a haven for stationery enthusiasts. He is careful in his expansion plans, cognizant of maintaining the high quality of his products and service.
The commitment to excellence remains unwavering, and he emphasizes the need to enhance staff skills, product knowledge, and service efficiency to meet the growing demand for customized products. The brand’s road ahead is also paved with aspirations, such as allowing Kakimori’s specialized customization services to be available online.
Through Hirose’s commitment to quality and willingness to adapt, Kakimori transformed its traditional business model into one fit for the digital age. Looking back on how the business has grown, Hirose hopes that Kakimori’s journey inspires and encourages small business owners.
“I did not expect Kakimori’s concept and philosophy to be so popular among people, so this just goes to show that no matter how niche something is, it will always have its own group of fans,” said Hirose. “And through social and digital networking, we can easily reach out to fans worldwide. So let’s dream big, and not be afraid to look toward expanding globally.”
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