No matter how tough times are for the economy, women still want to look their best. One company helping them to do that is U.S. cosmetics powerhouse Revlon, which has had a presence in Japan for 51 years. Revlon KK markets several categories in Japan, focusing on the face, lips, eyes and nails.
Overseeing Revlon’s operations in Japan is Saori Kanno, a vivacious woman who has more than 20 years’ experience in the cosmetics industry. Born in Yamagata Prefecture, Kanno graduated from Keio University in Tokyo. She joined Revlon 20 years ago, where she spent three years. Then she worked at other cosmetics companies before returning to Revlon three years ago as senior marketing director. She became general manager two years ago.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Kanno at the Revlon Japan offices in Kojimachi to hear more about the business.
How would you describe Revlon’s image in Japan?
We have a long history in Japan. Last year, Revlon celebrated its 50th anniversary, so we are very well known. Revlon’s image has changed over the years. At first, it was one of the first international brands to arrive in Japan and was seen as gorgeous and glamorous back then. Now our latest brand image has two angles. First, it is seen as international, trendy, colorful and fashionable. Second, we are in the self-selection mass market, and normally consumers tend to think the quality is so-so but in Revlon’s case, we are seen as offering high product quality at reasonable prices.
Was 2013 a good year for Revlon?
Yes, it was and so was 2012. Our net sales at the end of 2012 were 11% up on 2011. In 2013, sales were 24% up over 2012. The first quarter this year has seen a growth of 28% in sales. We have been growing much faster than the market which grew only about 1% last year.
Is Japan a big market for Revlon?
Not yet. Japan’s share of the global market is less than 3% but in terms of growth, Japan is one of Revlon’s key growth markets.
What are some unique characteristics of the Japanese market?
One of the features of the Japanese market is there are so many brands and new products. Consumers love to try a lot of different brands. What’s different from other countries is that in Japan, because consumers love cosmetics so much, it’s so easy for companies in other industries to enter the business. For instance, there are sake companies developing cosmetics. So is Fujifilm. Also, 10 years ago, seasonality used to be more important, but not anymore. Consumers want more new items regularly, so product cycles tend to be short. Companies need to be creative and introduce innovative yet relevant products regularly
What are Revlon’s main lines?
We sell products in four categories. The first is the Face category – that means base cream, liquid foundation, powder foundation, powder and blush, etc. Then there is the Eye category – eyebrow, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara. The third is Lips—lip liner, lip essence, lipstick and lip gloss. The fourth is Nails.
Which is your biggest revenue earner?
The Face category accounts for about 50% of our sales. In the self-selection mass market, we are a leader in Japan in this category, which is interesting. If you look at the total cosmetics market in Japan, foundation products are not so easy to select because of each person’s own complexion color and skin condition, so the strength of many companies is more in the counseling business with beauty advisors such as at department stores and GMS (General Merchandising Stores). But we’ve succeeded without that.
Where are Revlon products available?
Our retail presence is in three main distribution areas. One is variety shops like Plaza, Loft and Shop In, for example. The second area is retail outlets like AEON and Seiyu. The third is drugstores. Currently, we have 2,400 stores all over Japan.
What is your marketing strategy?
Our main driver for brand support is not traditional advertising. We put our focus on PR and digital marketing to further improve our brand awareness and buzz creation with speed because our core target is women in the 18-25 age group. We also have famous actresses as our brand ambassadors to inspire expressive women. You’ve probably seen actress Emma Stone on posters within stores and online. She is one of our brand ambassadors along with Halle Berry and Olivia Wilde
Do you manufacture products especially for Japan?
Currently, 95% of our products are imported from the U.S. There are a few products we develop in Japan. In some cases, we share ideas or make suggestions to the R&D team in the U.S. and they develop it.
How about your online business?
We don’t do online sales actively yet, but we are considering it for the future. When I became general manager, my first priority was to achieve organic sales growth. After that, we can look at e-commerce.
How do you get feedback from the market?
We have a very good relationship with our key customers – the stores – and from them, we learn how consumers react to our products. In addition, our sales reps visit stores and carefully observe consumers. Also, we have Facebook, Google Plus as well as a call center. Another means of measuring consumer reaction is a very influential beauty site called @cosme, which is based on word of mouth among consumers about what they like and recommend.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of industry trends?
I am a big shopper. I go out to see the market, not only cosmetics, but fashion, food as well. I watch TV shopping channels to see what the latest trends are. I also try to visit stores maybe twice a week or on weekends. I look at which brands stand out and how our products are displayed.
Tell us about your team.
We have 44 staff, including me. They are in sales, marketing, logistics, financial and administration. We also have a small office in Osaka. About 70% are women.
What is a typical day for you?
No day is typical. I usually come here about 8:45 a.m. But I may have to do conference calls with the U.S. early in the morning or late at night. The first thing I do is look at the sales figures for the previous day and then I deal with international emails. In the evening, I sometimes attend business dinners, networking seminar or ACCJ events.
How do you like to relax?
I like shopping, travelling and Latin dancing—salsa or samba. Some weekends, I just like to be with my two cats, enjoy a nice lunch with friends and read books. Other times, I travel abroad just for 2-3 days and write articles for hotel magazines as a member of Hotel Junkies Club.