Chocolate Graphics® is a unique global business that takes the personalized products market to another level: into the realm of everyone’s favorite indulgence—chocolate. Their product is personalized chocolate that features a raised design in a wide range of colors and flavors, in the form of a special design, message, logo, or photograph. Chocolate Graphics’ chocolates are entirely edible. Terry Warren has brought the process to Japan, where he holds office in Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo.
I’ve been in Japan for ten years. My business partner and I ran an internet and hosting business in Australia for almost 13 years. But when we sold the business I was invited to act as general manager of networks in Japan for a major ISP and I thought: why not take a look? I’d actually not traveled much at all outside Australia. I remember flying in via Hong Kong. It looked like something right out of the movie Blade Runner. Then I came to Tokyo and I was really blown away by the technology and how organized and busy and exciting it was. I soon realized that Australia; from a technology and business perspective was pretty boring so I decided to stay! Japan really leads the world in terms of technology and the internet.
Can you tell us a bit about your company?
Chocolate Graphics is a specialist chocolate company, which makes chocolates with designs on them. It’s a patented technology using 100 percent chocolate so no inks or icings are used. The designs are printed onto chocolate using chocolate and a state-of-the-art, computerized laser technology to create high-resolution images. It’s been a lot of research and hard work, having no previous experience in the food industry, or with chocolate quality, packaging, or marketing. Although Chocolate Graphics Japan acquired the license in June 2007, we only started selling chocolate in September 2008. We worked from our test kitchen, perfecting the product for about nine months in Shizuka, until we moved into our factory just outside Gotanda. How has the current economic down turn affected your new business?
It hit us quite hard towards the end of last year. A lot of companies that we were doing work for were events related and they had cut their parties back so orders diminished a little. However we are doing a lot of other things. We recently worked with Vivienne Westwood, Todd’s, Lexus, and Bliss. So while we’ve lost a few companies we’ve gained a ton. We’ve had to adapt quite a lot and think of new ways to work with people.
What are the Japan-specific challenges you face daily?
For the first few years I used Japan as a base but spent the majority of my time traveling around Asia-Pacific as part of my job. Japanese wasn’t the primary language that I needed during this time so I never enrolled in any lessons. I regret not learning. For business especially there is a huge amount of paperwork, and rules and regulations to do with tax etc., which I have to rely on others to decipher. In Japan the chocolate market is a premium market so it is not even worth competing with anything but a premium product. Here product quality and packaging quality has to be of the highest standard. All of the licensing and regulations for our food handling has to be entirely spot-on. Every piece of equipment that touches the chocolate has to go off to a testing laboratory. It’s very strict here in Japan. Certain Japanese companies were recently caught using bad ingredients in their products and their reputations have been severely damaged. It takes a long, long time for people to take your business seriously here; there are very high standards so maintaining a good reputation is important.
What advice would you give to aspiring professionals here in Japan?
Firstly have an amazing amount of capital. Most entrepreneurs find that they need two or maybe three times the amount of capital, which they thought they needed. Secondly do your research. I’ve been a bit of a serial entrepreneur over the years so I’ve learned an awful lot; however starting a business in Japan is a totally different ball game. There’s even more research to be done. Here people have new tastes, new standards, and a totally new concept of brand perception; a whole new world has to be taken into consideration.