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I've just been reading some case studies about McDonalds and IKEA, looking at successes and failures when they entered markets like Japan, France, India and Italy. In most markets they eventually got it right, but in some instances they so fouled up that they had to exit and then start again.
Mostly, the reasons look quite obvious. McDonalds miscalculating the French approach to food and eating. IKEA not realising that the Japanese had small houses that could not take bulky furniture, and anyway did not want to make it themselves at home. All of these had solutions and were eventually successfully resolved.
In leather, we sell to brands who decide where our leather goes, or to factories that use our leather wherever they are in the world. Be they shoemakers or bag makers, glovers or automobile producers they know how to work with us, and we, with them. As tanners, unless we look up, we never see the consumers who buy the finished article. Our task is over when the leather has left the tannery door. We do not have to worry about consumer culture or attitudes.
The problem is that in the modern world this is not true. On top of understanding consumers, both IKEA and McDonalds are good examples of how much the world has become about experiences and the future success of leather largely lies in the ongoing delight consumers have with leather. Not the first touch, but every touch. Not the first look, but how it continues to look after use, and a good handbag or briefcase can become a friend as the patina evolves and it becomes a part of every life.
To achieve this, we need to recognise, just as McDonalds and IKEA have, that the final customers are not as standardised and easy to deal with as those who buy our leather and understand how to cut and sew it in their plants. In the 1980s, it was thought that all the world would Americanise, and all customers would become the same, but it has not happened. Some things have crossed the world but, in many ways, our national identities and cultures have become more prominent.
So customers around the world have a very varied view of leather, of what is good about leather, of how to judge a "top quality" piece of leather, of what is natural and what is a fault. A Chinese or a Brazilian person sees leather differently.
To be a good tanner today and tomorrow, we must find innovative, guerrilla marketing techniques to help consumers everywhere understands the origins and value of leather. We need to work primarily with our customers as well as with consumers directly. This is becoming an essential role for the tanner.
2nd March 2016
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