The Copycats… The Giver-uppers…

It is my opinion that Japanese businesses generally suck at marketing. My favorite example is The Chococro Cafe. I like this example, a lot –

Starbucks suddenly existed; people loved it. Starbucks made lots of different kinds of coffees and treats. People enjoyed drinking/eating/inhaling them. Every once in a while, Starbucks came up with something new. I guess around this time, a lot of Japanese kids whose parents had ridden high during the Pre-Sony-Walkman-Era boom were just graduating from college. Seeing as big business was the thing putting the Japanese all over the map, most kids around then had been studying business. Almost everyone wanted to work their way up a big company. I bet they’re probably still at their desks, answering the phones, right about now, at 2 am on Sunday, waiting for that day when they won’t be answering the phones anymore…

Anyway, apparently lots of people started cafes, for some reason or another, right around the time Starbucks really took off. I wonder why. As if having four Starbuckses on one city block wasn’t enough, you now had to deal with literally four Starbuckses and then one of each of two dozen other franchise Starbucks clones.

One of these Japanese franchise cafes was called Saint Marc’s. The Saint Marc corporation was founded about a decade ago by a couple of young people who didn’t know they wanted to have a cafe. Eventually, they had a cafe.

Okay, I’m not going to glorify this. They just had a couple of cafes in Osaka. They were known for an edgier decor than your old-school Japanese cafes, or than Starbucks’s down-home feel. They seemed to have made a lot of little pastries, you know, just flinging shit at the wall. Nothing stuck. Well, eventually, they made a croissant with a little bit of chocolate in it. They called it the “Chocolate Croissant“… What a name.

I’m not really sure how this happened, but it got popular. Some women’s magazine must have written a review or a recommendation of it.

Not two years later, Saint Marc’s Cafe had changed the name of all their locations to “Chococro Cafe”. “Chococro” is a little abbreviation, like “Pokemon” is to “Pocket Monsters.” “Chococro” is short for “Chocoreeto Corowasan”.

Starbucks evolved from a small chain of cafes to a huge one by consistently introducing new products, constantly pushing the envelope. Right? So what the hell? They just immediately changed their name to reflect the name of the first product that brought them moderate success.

I guess you can call this the “Japanese resolve”. A company sees its fate and resigns itself to it. I think it sounds more like someone just giving up and settling for what they have. Now, there’s nothing wrong with limiting one’s ambitions, in theory. I’m not the kind of person to say that everybody should want to rule the world. My main beef here is that there are just too many Chococro Cafes around me all the time.

Chococro Cafe has a smoking section, separated from the non-smoking section by a maybe-four-foot-tall wall of plastic. So yeah, maybe that’s not the reason, but I’ve kind of come to hate on Chococro Cafe at every opportunity: If they’re so willing to just settle down and marry their proverbial high school sweetheart, why do they try to keep expanding?

Eventually, they’re going to find they’ve expanded too far, spread themselves too thin. What’s going to happen, then? Businesses like Chococro Cafe are nonchalantly dumping tiny little rabbit turds into the ocean-sized reservoir of the world economy.

Yesterday, after a long day of walking around Osaka, I stopped by a Chococro Cafe. I ate one of the Chocolate Croissants

It tasted like a chocolate croissant.

May 2011
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