Turning devastation into a determination to succeed

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You’d be hard pushed to find a business unaffected by the financial crash of 2008, and for one Harrogate-based company which had been successfully trading in Japanese gifts for nearly ten years, it proved disastrous.

Between 2008 and 2009, the pound halved in value versus the Japanese yen - doubling the cost of The Japanese Shop’s goods. Within four months, and despite record sales of over £1.1 million in 2008 from its shops in Harrogate, York and Chester, the company went into liquidation. “It was like being hit by an economic tsunami,” recalls founder and managing director Jez Willard.

“In January 2009 I lost my father, Nick, to lung cancer, had to make redundant all but one of our 23 wonderful staff and then lost our business, which my wife Hiromi and I had built over the last ten years. We were completely devastated.”

And yet, just one month later, the couple decided to turn one of their bedrooms into a storeroom and another into a small office. They agreed a deal with the administrators to buy back The Japanese Shop’s stock and website and began trading again as The Japanese Shop in February 2009, this time purely as an online retailer.

Hiromi says: “In a strange way we were quite excited. We had built a successful business once and were very determined that we could do it again.”

The combination of their unique range of quality Japanese gifts with first class level service has seen the new The Japanese Shop go from strength to strength.

And, in what Jez calls a strange twist of fate, the weak pound has helped to boost exports which now account for about 25 per cent of sales, with the company shipping orders to nearly 50 countries in the last three years. The firm now has several wholesale and corporate accounts and recently won a large order from Proctor and Gamble.

Jez and Hiromi have just made a substantial investment in a new multi-currency, multi-language website platform which will go live next month as they bid to become the market leader for Japanese gifts in Europe.

And tomorrow, the couple will officially open their new showroom in Harrogate Business Centre on Hookstone Avenue.

The experience has left Jez and Hiromi philosophical: they helped raise nearly £7,000 for the Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal with a cherry blossom picnic last May. “That was real devastation,” says Jez.