Customer Spotlight

Nicolas Soergel | CHINRIU

CHINRIU Brings Japanese Products to New Global Markets With NetSuite OneWorld

Japan is home to some of the oldest businesses in the world, with more than 33,000 companies that have been in operation for over 100 years. However, with an ageing population and shrinking domestic market, many of these traditional businesses, from producers of bonito flakes to bamboo basket weavers, are at risk of disappearing forever due to lack of successors or an inability to adapt to today’s approach to commerce.

But all is not lost. Nicolas Soergel, entrepreneur and Managing Director of CHINRIU, is determined to bring authentic Japanese products to a new global market using the power of technology. “We want to preserve the Japanese culture by saving these old companies, and revitalising them through our international network,” he said.

Fortunately, Soergel knows a thing or two about transforming a traditional Japanese enterprise. CHINRIU was founded in 1871 by the last chief cook of Odawara Castle in Japan, and is famous for its traditional Japanese foods, such as ume plum, shiso leaves and sakura cherry blossoms. The business remains family owned, with Soergel’s wife being the fifth generation. As such, he’s striving to protect a legacy as well as a business.

After joining the business in 2009, Soergel started selling CHINRIU products internationally in 2012. “In order to survive, we needed to sell our products outside of Japan. My role has been developing markets, and developing products,” he said. “I always had to remember the heritage of the company, while changing it to adapt to modern times.”

Big In Japan

Today, CHINRIU manufactures and distributes its own range of traditional treats, as well as selling an ever-increasing range of authentic Japanese products via its international online store, where customers can shop in seven languages and six currencies. Its multi-channel operation is now made up of CHINRIU bricks and mortar stores, a B2B business selling to restaurants, department stores and high-end supermarkets, and an international export business selling to consumers, wholesalers and restaurants in more than 100 countries via various online channels, including Amazon and its new direct-to-consumer online store in Europe. CHINRIU has 6,000 SKUs, with the international business accounting for 60% of revenue, a figure which is rising every year.

Such rapid growth and dramatic transformation wasn’t easy for CHINRIU. “We had very old legacy systems which we had been using for 20 years and there was no way to automate any part of the ordering process or analyse our customer data,” Soergel said. And as the volume of international orders continued to grow, the team struggled to keep up. “We were managing six currencies and everything was being done manually. We realised we have to do something about our systems or we will not be able to grow anymore. Even adding more people wouldn't work, because they would just be confusing each other with all the manual work.”

Existing systems had limited functionality in foreign languages, forcing CHINRIU to make foreign addresses and names fit into a Japanese format, as well as manually print bespoke labels for each country it was shipping to. Managing inventory was also manual and error prone, resulting in the business holding too much stock or its produce expiring before it was sold.

Sayonara Inefficiency

Soergel considered other solutions, like Microsoft Dynamics, but ultimately chose NetSuite OneWorld to create a single platform for both international and domestic businesses. “Going overseas was the key to transforming the Japanese business,” Soergel said. “We started using the new tools, and then rolled them out into the Japanese business.”

CHINRIU has refined its operations to standardise processes and improve efficiency, and now runs all the food labelling for its 6,000 products through the platform, allowing for custom nutritional labelling to meet the unique needs of each country. Improved inventory management means CHINRIU can fulfil orders more quickly but with less inventory. The team sets preferred stock levels, units of measurement, and automates the replenishment of stock which reduces food waste. It’s also integrated NetSuite with Ship & Co which automates shipping quotes, and calculates costs for international orders in under 10 minutes (a process which previously took up to an hour).

In addition to its online stores, Amazon is a major marketplace and distribution partner for CHINRIU. The process involves shipping products from Japan into an Amazon warehouse offshore where it fulfills the orders locally. “One of the requirements for food is having local food labels. So if you sell into the Amazon U.S. warehouse, they require you to have FDA compliant labels. And if you sell to Amazon in France and their warehouse, you need to have EU-compliant French labels,” Soergel said. “NetSuite now allows us to customise items so that we collect all the information required for each market in one place. That was a major thing.”

Technology Preserving Tradition

The future looks bright for CHINRIU, with a rapidly growing international customer base and a new direct-to-consumer online store in Europe. “The short term growth plan is to add more products, more marketplaces, and more distributors,” Soergel said. “This has been accelerating since the implementation of NetSuite.” The long-term plan is a more strategic one, which utilises its technology platform and deep understanding of international ecommerce and distribution.

”We want to preserve Japanese culture by acquiring historic companies and giving them new life through our international network,” he said. “With our platforms, including NetSuite as our ERP, we can take them to a huge global market, helping to keep these traditions alive, by adapting sometimes 400 year old businesses to modern times. That’s exciting.”

Read more about CHINRIU’s NetSuite journey.

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