Determined to continue retail sale closely supporting customers
Nippori fabric town in Arakawa ward, Tokyo is well known to handcrafters as the mecca of material procurement. You can find a broad range of items needed for handcrafts from textiles to threads, leathers, and buttons here. There also are rare items that you cannot buy anywhere else.
Among many stores lined up, there is TOMATO, one of the best-known textile specialty shops. It operates 5 shops including the main building and arch building in this fabric town. Customers visit them from all over Japan, and even from overseas in recent years.
The TOMATO shops are powered by some equipment they introduced; sublimation transfer inkjet printer (IJP) “JV300-160”, textile pigment inkjet printer “Tx300P-1800B”, and transcriber from Monti Antonio S.p.A. “Mod.856 ”.
When they first introduced the equipment, some people within the company said “Why digital print now?” We tried to find out how the equipment is contributing the business now.
Develop TOMATO's original products!
TOMATO's parent company is an enterprise involved in textile printing. At the time of founding, TOMATO used to sell at retail grade-B and grade-C piece textiles generated when the parent company manufactured products.
It provides such a wide selection of textiles that it is regarded as one of the few shops that retail enormous selections of patterns and types of textiles in Japan.
“Retail sale closely supporting customers” is what Mr. Yasukuni Usui, President of TOMATO aims for. About 95% of textiles manufactured in Japan are available at TOMATO. It offers an unparalleled selection of goods that never disappoints customers.
However, Mr. Shizuya Namba, Manager of TOMATO analyzes the current situation as an “era with challenges for retailers”. People can purchase textiles by Internet shopping nowadays. There are many users who prefer to view and order products online and have them delivered rather than visit shops to see, to touch and feel the real colors, patterns, and textures.
President Usui asked himself “What is the advantage of retail shops?”, and explored various ways of business. He was initially reluctant to start selling over the Internet because he felt sorry for customers who visit their real shop.
Despite the fact that the shop offers most of the designs produced in Japan, it was also true that there were few designs that were available only at TOMATO. On another front, increasing number of apparel makers were producing textiles in-house. Such circumstances increased the need for TOMATO to develop their original products to secure a firm position.
That was the time they encountered with low volume production by inkjet printers.
Requirements to dye textiles
In order to have textiles dyed at a dye house, we need to order production of 3000m per design. This is still true now. Such requirements sometimes made them hesitate to produce textiles if they were of too individual patterns or designs that can be handled only at their own shops, because there were concerns about storage space for inventory and unsold stock.
They learned about IJP when we were exploring ways to produce small-lot textiles.
“It has been a while since we came to know about IJP.” says President Usui.
At that time in 2013, they had an impression that its quality and speed have not reached the required standards. Also, out of consideration for the textile makers of long-standing relationship, they hesitated to start printing in-house, and could not decide to introduce the device so soon.
Established design section
To select the model, they valued IJP of sublimation transfer type. This type requires only a transcriber to combine with, and allows to complete products in a short process because it does not require post processing such as washing and drying. Also, size of the device was suitable for them. It was a benefit for TOMATO with the workshop located in a midtown district of Nippori.
Other companies which started printing in-house prior to them also recommended MIMAKI.
Then, in 2017, they introduced the textile pigment inkjet printer “Tx300P-1800B”. It allowed them to print directly onto textiles and widened the range of materials that can be used for printing.
“It was our first time to print with a large-format printer and to use a transcriber.” looks back Mr. Namba.
To introduce the equipment, they opened a smart workshop of wood deck style, equipped with high-voltage power supply and ventilating facilities near their shops in Nippori. They also launched a design section and employed two new female designers to be ready for the new business. Surprisingly, these two designers perform almost all the operations of the printer.
As a matter of course, they had some difficulties at the beginning; not being able to realize intended color development and taking long time for transcription. But such troubles were gradually resolved, and now they can print patterns in the exact color they want, and onto any type of textile.
The best advantage is...
After the company launched the system to develop its original textiles, it gained the ability to produce products in a very small lot, which was not possible when it had to order 3000m at minimum.
“Being able to produce products in-house allowed us to realize customers requests.” says President Usui, describing the company's new departure.
In fact, the shop now displays their unique products produced by digital print such as “cherry blossom”, “spider web”, “lightning”, and “starry sky” on the shelves.
As they can produce original printed textiles in a very small lot, they can create high-impact designs without worrying about large amounts of dead stocks. If the products sell well, they can produce additional lots and increase the color variation, responding to situations in a detailed manner.
Digital print brought benefits to B2B bulk orders as well.
The inkjet printer allows to print a small volume of samples, which facilitates business meetings with clients.
For instance, they can produce 1m-long samples of multiple designs with slightly different textiles and colors, and present them to clients. Such flexible and detailed support facilitates smooth business negotiations and raises order rates.
“Since we can produce samples at low cost, even if the negotiation is not finalized at that time, it grows the recognition that TOMATO can produce products even in small volume if requested. This leads to future business opportunities.” explains Mr. Namba.
The delivery time can be as short as about 1 week in digital printing. There are even cases where they produce samples to check the color and pattern on the same day.
Previously, when they placed orders with a dye house, it used to take at least 2 weeks, and normally over 1 month. Such a job can be completed in quite a short time.
“The best thing of all is that it increased the range controllable by our own hand.” says President Usui, reviewing the advantage. When they had it done at a dye house, it was not easy to make a modification even if the color is somewhat different. Digital printing in-house allows them to modify the result as many times as they want until they are satisfied.
Scope of activities begins to expand
Digital printing textiles is only a part of TOMATO's business. It also receives order to produce flags, banners, hanten, and many other items.
There have been increasing cases where their existing customer brings in designs, asking if they can print them. Even if it is quite an individual design that can be sold for 100m or 200m, but is difficult for 500m, they can produce it without waste.
Such kind of orders are printed in a small lot in a short delivery period, which makes them “quickly completed jobs unique to digital”. Here is the advantage of digital print requiring no plate-making or large printers.
Introduction of digital print also lead us to social contribution.
In the collaboration project with Bunka Fashion College and Cat Liaison Association of Arakawa District, the company has been acting as a partner and supporter by printing in-house the top 10 designs created in Adobe Illustrator by more than a dozen participants.
The company also commercializes the designs into tenugui (washcloth) and market them, then donates part of their sales to an animal protection group.
Making full use of the printer
TOMATO's digital print section plays a role of lab as well.
The two designers try all kinds of patterns and test-print them on varieties of textiles to research how the results come out every day.
“The biggest change was that the shop side came to understand how the digital printing can be used for business.” says Mr. Namba. Actually, before the introduction, some people used to say “Why digital print now?” As the achievements have been built up, the usage of the digital printer for low-volume, short delivery and plate-less production gradually penetrated into the shop side as well.
“Customers’ voices heard by clerks can be promptly reflected in our products now.” says President Usui.
For instance, if a clerk is asked “Don't you have a pattern of starry sky?”, the shop makes a request, and the two designers in the workshop can immediately work on the design, trying to reflect such a voice in the design development.
Products created from such requests are for businesses. Most of the customers who purchase products at the shop are business users such as handicraft shops. TOMATO hopes to step up the sales for consumers as well in the future, and plans to enhance the Internet sales while considering the relationship with the shop.
“We want to line up many original products that are available only here to give pleasure to many people. We will learn a lot in our activities such as business-academia collaboration and social contribution, and try to meet customers’ expectations.” smiles President Usui.
- NameTOMATO CO., LTD.
- IndustryWholesale and retail of textiles
- Address6-44-6 Higashi-nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, Japan
- Phone number+81-3-5850-3080