THE BACKGROUND

Anyone that has ever logged into Instagram has probably encountered at least one picture featuring a minimalist watch with a NATO strap and trademark ‘DW’ on the dial.

Daniel Wellington Instagram

The classic rose gold-tone watch with the stripes NATO strape

In the six years after its inception in 2011, the relatively young Swedish watch brand Daniel Wellington (DW) has successfully become one of the world’s best-selling watch brands under the $200 price range.

DW was inspired when the founder Filip Tysander met a British man with “impeccable yet unpretentious style” during his travels in Australia. Tysander was inspired to create his own line of watches after seeing the man’s pairing of a vintage Rolex Submariner with an old, weathered NATO strap.

Within three years after its launch, DW sold one million watches worth $70 million and the company is now worth over $200 million.

It is also the fastest growing private company in Europe — recording 4,700% growth in revenue between 2013 and 2015.

What factor contributes to its massive success?

It is almost single-handedly owed to the company’s Instagram strategy.

THE CHALLENGES

Coming from the Gen Y millennial generation himself, Tysander knew personally the pain of finding an affordable minimalist watch as most companies charge a premium for the style.

“I thought there was also something missing in watch design, when it comes to watch that is slim, thin, and minimalistics, that you can wear together with a suit, that is not that expensive,” Tysander said about the opportunity he saw in the watch industry.

So how does one make an affordable stylish watch without looking cheap? On top of that, how does a brand create an identity that millennials want to be associated with?

THE STRATEGY

The company picked a perfect time to start its business, a period right after the economy recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and profits in the watch industry jumped from $3.7 billion in 2009 to $5 billion in 2014.

Tysander also noticed a classic trend in fashion hadn’t yet made it to the watch world – the preppy style so he drew inspiration from Ralph Lauren to match his new NATO straps.

To keep price points relatively low, the company manufactures and assembles its parts in China but the brand maintains a certain level of quality by sourcing the time-keeping parts from Miyota, a Japanese supplier known for its good quality-to-cost ratio.

“Our watches are inspired by the upper echelons of the watch world but at a very accessible price point. It’s fair to say that we want everyone to be able to own a Daniel Wellington,” said Frans Sjo, DW’s business manager for the US.

Indeed, the brand has made it very easy for people to purchase a Daniel Wellington watch by partnering with over 6,000 retailers in 75 countries.

The company also sells its products online, offering free worldwide shipping and returns on not only its official website but also distributing its timepieces in Southeast Asia through popular marketplace Lazada.

Daniel Wellington Instagram

Daniel Wellington ecommerce website with free worldwide shipping

Unlike other upscale brands that are bound by guidelines and can only sell their products in certain boutiques, DW partners with any retailer that will have them – department store, boutique, standalone, etc.

While its omnipresent channel distribution is impressive, the company’s most notable strength is its marketing. The company refused to spend on traditional advertising and turns instead to social media to reach potential consumers.

In its early days, DW gave watches to key influencers on Instagram so they could show it off to their thousands of followers. But the company didn’t choose celebrity endorsers and started with the several smaller influencers to achieve the same “viral” effect at a cheaper cost.

Daniel Wellington Instagram

The company curates its Instagram feed with pictures from customers around the world.

DW has also curated a very stylish Instagram profile itself as a fashion brand and has successfully garnered 3.2 million followers. It also leverages user-generated content (UGC) to engage its customers and drive brand loyalty by featuring user posts with hashtag #DanielWellington.

Daniel Wellington has succeeded in lowering its product’s base cost, and consequently the retail price, while branding itself to be a stylish and desirable brand to a wide demographic.

THE FUTURE

Having excelled in an online channel strategy, DW is now looking to expand its offline footprint to further expand the business.

The company is planning to open 300 flagship stores worldwide within a year, ten times of what the company had at the beginning of 2017. At least 100 of them are planned to open in China.

To increase global recognition (and now that DW has the money), the brand has appointed Kendall Jenner to be its brand ambassador to launch its Classic Petite collection — the company’s first mesh band watch.

Daniel Wellington Instagram

Kendal Jenner is the face of the company’s Classic Petite collection launched March this year.a

“If you go back to 2013, I had no idea the company had the potential to grow to its current size, but today it’s part of my everyday life. I’m incredibly fortunate,” said Tysander in an interview.

With $66 million profit all for himself? No doubt.

THE BACKGROUND

Ranked as the 11th largest cosmetics company in terms of sales worldwide, South Korea’s Amorepacific booked $4.8 billion in sales for 2016, all accumulated from 25 brands under its umbrella, including Sulwhasoo, Laneige, Innisfree, and Etude.

The company is known for its low to mid-range prices but high-quality products targeted towards the masses, especially young females.

By establishing Korea’s first cosmetics research lab in 1954, less than a decade after being founded in 1945, the company pioneered popular skincare trends such as boosting essences, sleeping masks, cushion foundations, and two-tone lip bars.

Forbes placed Amorepacific at No. 16 on its 2016 list of the world’s most innovative companies, and No. 7 in all of Asia.

Riding the ‘Hallyu Wave’ or South Korea’s pop culture phenomenon, the company has been largely credited to enhancing the Asian-ification multi-step beauty regime around the world.

Amorepacific Southeast Asia expansion
Amorepacific Southeast Asia expansion

The expansion of Korean Wave or “Hallyu” influenced the rise of Korean cosmetics brands. Source: Korean Joongang Daily.

THE CHALLENGE

The company reported a drop in its net profit by nearly 60% in Q2 2017 as geo-political tension between South Korea and China worsened due to the implementation of the THAAD anti-missile system earlier this year.

China was the company’s biggest overseas market, accounting for approximately 20% of total sales.

The tensions impacted a 22.5% drop in domestic sales and nearly 40%less Chinese tourists traveled to the country after travel agencies stopped selling packages to South Korea as insisted by the Chinese government.

With its two top markets performing poorly, Amorepacific had to look to other markets in order to grow and lessen its dependability on China.

THE STRATEGY

While the long-term focus was on typically homogenous markets in East Asia, the company’s ambition to tap into the global market was accompanied by a commitment to creating attractive products for new markets.

“Our growth strategy remains firmly focused on creating innovative, singular brands, and products that appeal to consumers in target markets, and we will continue to work towards becoming a great company delivering new beauty values to customers around the world,” said Amorepacific Chairman & CEO Suh Kyung Bae.

Amorepacific globalization plans seemed to start with Southeast Asia, as the company began dedicating more resources to efforts in the region.

Amorepacific Southeast Asia expansion

Amorepacific presence in Southeast Asia. Source: Pulse News.

 

“The market (ASEAN) is particularly important in that it is a gateway to India and the Middle East because ASEAN consists of multiple ethnic groups, including Indian, and is closely related to those markets,” said Na Jung Kyun, Head of Amorepacific ASEAN Regional Headquarters.

To penetrate the market, Amorepacific reformulated its products to compensate for the region’s humidity, darker skin tones, and the needs of Muslim women (“Muslimah”).

Examples include a lighter washable makeup that can be easily removed and applied for Muslimah that conducts daily prayers, which require a light washing of the face.

The company also developed darker shades of foundation for Laneige and Innisfree specifically sold in the region and aptly named “ASEAN Cushion Shades”.

In addition to localizing its product lines, the company also opened its first research and innovation lab earlier this year in Singapore. The aim is to develop highly tailored products for the ASEAN market and address regulatory issues.

Malaysia, in particular, has caught the cosmetic giant’s fancy as it invested 110 billion won ($95.7 million) to build its third overseas factory in the Nusajaya area – completion scheduled for 2020 – and opened an Etude flagship store in Kuala Lumpur early this month.

Amorepacific Southeast Asia expansion

Etude’s large range of lipstick in its flagship store.

“I believe among ASEAN member countries, the Malaysian market has the highest growth potential. In fact, it has been our goal to open a flagship store in Kuala Lumpur, and introduce the new core values of Etude House to a wider range of customers,” said Etude House CEO Geum Joo Kwon.

Not only has the company focused on traditional brick and mortar stores, Amorepacific has also taken its brands online with Innisfree launching an official brand.com web store, to offer its products worldwide.

Laneige has also opened an official store on popular Southeast Asian marketplace Lazada Indonesia and Thailand.

Often the other way around – first developed then developing markets – the company is eyeing North America for further expansion.

“Our company is operating in the Korean market, the Chinese market, and the ASEAN market. The US market will be our fourth pillar for our business, so we are very much committed to developing the US market,” revealed Amorepacific Chairman and CEO Suh Kyung Bae.

Through Innisfree, the company made its official introduction to the US market earlier this month with a grand opening of its first store in NYC, where it currently offers 900 different items from skincare, makeup, and home scents.

It also expanded to 14 different shades in its cushion foundation to serve a wider range of skin colors.

Amorepacific Southeast Asia expansion

THE FUTURE

The company’s decision to place a bet in Southeast Asia has reaped fruitful results as it overtook competitor brand Estee Lauder and doubled its market share in Asia Pacific to 6% in 2016.

Amorepacific Southeast Asia expansion

It has lagged behind L’Oreal and Shiseido, two companies with the strong digital presence in Southeast Asia.

But the experience and knowledge it picked up in this region are expected to be helpful for its venture into other new markets.

“If we can achieve success in Southeast Asia with this much diversity, it can also be a very good experience for us to enter different countries with great diversity as well,” commented Na Jung Kyun, Head of Amorepacific ASEAN Regional Headquarters.

THE BACKGROUND

It’s safe to say that Toys ‘R’ Us is one of the most popular places on earth for kids everywhere. With an endless variety of toys stacked in high racks, it is a heaven created for kids or kids-at-heart alike.

The toy retailer was born after founder Charles Lazarus came back from serving in the World War II and decided to build a baby furniture business during the baby-boom in 1948.

Lazarus started featuring assortments of toys in the store then named “Children’s Bargain Town” after receiving a high demand from parents and soon learned that unlike furniture, toys would keep customers coming back, either for an upgrade or a replacement.

Less than a decade later, he restructured his business to solely focus on toys and opened the first Toys ‘R’ Us store in 1957 — with the iconic backward R giving a childlike impression. To date, the company has 1,600 stores across 38 countries.

“What we are is a supermarket for toys. We don’t have a competitor in variety, there is none,” told Lazarus to the Washington Post.

Toys R Us bankruptcy ecommerce

Toys ‘R’ Us founder Charles Lazarus retired as CEO and president in 1994 while remain chairman. Source: Getty Images.

For decades, the US company was so unbeatable that it had become a classic example of a category killer — a business that successfully specializes in one sector that it pushes out competition from both smaller specialty stores and larger general retailers.

So what happened to the once-booming business that the company filed for bankruptcy earlier this week?

THE CHALLENGE

When news of the Chapter 11 filing (“reorganization” bankruptcy”) by the toy retailer broke, media was quick to blame Amazon and the rise of online retail as the reason of yet another traditional retailer struggling to stay in business, known commonly as the Amazon Effect.

But the real reason for the bankruptcy is more complicated than this and what set off “a dangerous game of dominoes” was actually accumulated debt.

Toys ‘R’ Us had managed to sustain a crushing debt for more than a decade after getting bought by KKR and Bain Capital in 2005. The private equities bought the retailer, which at that time was valued around $7.5 billion, for $6.6 billion that consists only of $1.4 billion in equity.

They then used the company’s assets to raise $5.3 billion in additional debt, creating a total debt of $6.2 billion — based on the assumption that they would be able to cut the retailer’s operating costs and sell under-utilized assets to raise cash and repay the debt.

But they failed to predict the retail shift to ecommerce, which created a completely different competitor from the ones Toys ‘R’ Us had been facing in the past such as Walmart or Target.

The assumption that retail real estate would increase in value also failed them as the US became saturated with retail space once businesses began shutting down.

The company barely had enough money to repay its $5 billion debt and fight traditional retailers, let alone build a major online presence to go up against Amazon.

Given its fragile situation and end year sales around the corner, the company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in order to provide the vendors with cash in advance as nearly all of them refused to ship products to fill the retailer’s inventory for the holiday season.

THE STRATEGY

With the new protection, Toys ‘R’ Us received a commitment for over $3 billion to help address the financial constraints in a lasting and effective way, as stated by Toys ‘R’ Us CEO Dave Brandon in the courts filling.

“Together with our investors, our objective is to work with our debtholders and other creditors to restructure the $5 billion of long term debt on our balance sheet.”

The company doesn’t plan to close stores and its operation in location around the world will continue normal operations. Toys ‘R’ Us also plans to spend $64.8 million before 2022 to make it more enjoyable to shop in its stores.

“Toys ‘R’ Us stores will be interactive spaces with rooms to use for parties, live product demonstrations put on by trained employees, and the freedom for employees to remove products from boxes to let kids play with the latest toys,” explained Brandon.

The plan also includes the creation of augmented-reality video games that customers can play on their smartphones while shopping at the store.

Toys R Us bankruptcy ecommerce

The iconic Indoor Ferris Wheel in Toys ‘R’ Us’s Time Square store that was closed in 2015 because of its high rental cost.

The suppliers’ support for the reorganization plan for Toys ‘R’ Us is also key to dragging them out of bankruptcy.

“Vendors are why they are in, they will be a big part of why they get out,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, Noel Hebert.

Some of the key vendors such as Hasbro and Matte have rallied support and stated they were standing by the company.

Earlier this year, the company also expressed its commitment to take action towards the lack of its online experience with a $100 million investment to revamp its website.

“Some organizations recognize faster than others there are shifts in the ways customers want to be communicated with and the way customers want to purchase products,” said Toys ‘R’ Us CEO David Brandon. “It probably took us awhile.”

Toys R Us bankruptcy ecommerce

The company’s current ecommerce website: www.toysrus.com

CEO Dave Brandon has said that the company will not engage in a “race to the bottom” of a discount war that is usually employed by online retailers in order to gain new customers.

Despite accusations of being slow to adapt to the online shift, Toys ‘R’ Us was, in fact, one of the first companies to sign a deal with Amazon in 2000 to sell toys exclusively through the online retailer.

The exclusive agreement marked the first “click-and-mortar” collaboration between traditional and online retailers but Amazon broke the deal and began allowing other toy sellers in its platform because Toys ‘R’ Us stock couldn’t keep up with the high demand.

Toys ‘R’ Us sued in 2004, and Amazon ended up having to pay $51 million out of the $93 million that the toy retailer asked for to settle the lawsuit five years later.

THE FUTURE

Despite the woes of the company in the US, its Asian operations remained unaffected.

In April this year, the company unified its Japanese business with the operations in Greater China and Southeast Asia — bringing together 223 subsidiaries stores across Asia and 34 licensed retail locations in Macau and the Philippines.

“Toys ‘R’ Us (Asia) is open for business and continuing to serve our customers as we always do. We are financially robust and self-funding retail operation, which continues to significantly grow and invest in this region,” said Toys ‘R’ Us Asia president, Andre Javes.

The company even plans to open another 22 store in China the coming weeks.

The journey that Toys ‘R’ Us facing will not be easy but the CEO remains optimistic.

“As the holiday season ramps up, our physical and web store are ones for business, and our team members around the world look forward to continuing to put huge smiles on children’s faces,” said Brandon.

Toys R Us bankruptcy ecommerce

THE BACKGROUND

IKEA. There is no other furniture brand as iconic as the blue and yellow giant famous for its ready-to-assemble flat-pack furniture, dizzying warehouse stores,  and difficult to pronounce product names (GRÖNKULLAFYRKANTIG).

The Swedish giant claims its beginning started in 1926 when founder Ingvar Kamprad was born but it was only at the tender age of 17 when he started a mail order business selling pens, watches, jewelry, and picture frames after receiving seed money from his father.

Furniture would be introduced into the company’s product offering five years later and become a success.

IKEA ecommerce

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder and senior adviser of IKEA, is the world’s 10th richest man. Source: Aftonbladet

Six decades later, IKEA’s 300+ stores around the world require over 1%of the global supply of wood to make over 100 million pieces of furniture. No business can come close to the Swedish conglomerate’s size…right?

THE CHALLENGE

While no furniture business has been able to even remotely achieve the same brand identity and global scale that IKEA has in the last 60+ years, the world’s shift to ecommerce has forced the company to re-think its retail strategy.

The biggest threat comes from low-cost manufacturers going direct to consumer by following a “Warby Parker business model”, popular examples include Interior Define and Bryght in the US.

“By cutting out high-rent showrooms and warehouses, big-budget ad campaigns and big-name designer, these companies can offer great prices and bring in greater profits.” – NYT

“This year has been quite challenging in terms of sales. After many years of good sales, this year we have seen weaker launches, stiffer low-price competition and changing consumer behavior. We are revising sales targets downward for the year, but remain very optimistic and ambitious,” Jesper Brodin, IKEA CEO, then MD, told a global suppliers’ conference in Almhult earlier this year.

“People are making choices in different ways. Retail is getting tougher, and there is a bigger fight for the marketplace than ever before. We need to be much more aggressive and the price-volume equation, which is part of IKEA’s DNA will help us.”

With the success of ecommerce companies like Amazon making headlines everyday, IKEA, along with every other retailer in the world is being reminded that retail is evolving and the traditional company finds itself having to learn new tricks.

THE STRATEGY

While late to the online shopping scene, up until 2016, the company was officially present in 28 countries and offered ecommerce in 14 of them. Even with no new ecommerce ventures in 2016,

IKEA recorded at 30% jump in online sales to $1.6 billion, a small fraction of total sales but nonetheless impressive.

“We weren’t one of the early adopters but we’ve matured in our thinking about it,” Peter Agnefjall, former IKEA CEO told the New York Times. “We realised this is not a trend, it’s a megashift.”

The company has never been one to shy away from innovation. Its successes include its in-store cafeteria and very own startup incubatorfocused on food innovation, disruptive technologies, customer experience, disruptive design, sustainability, manufacturing, supply chain, and analytics.

It’s not then surprising to learn that IKEA has become one of the first to actually incorporate VR into its brand new mobile app launched only yesterday.

IKEA Place is part of the first wave of augmented reality apps that work with Apple’s new ARKit technology and iOS 11 to allow customers to “place” furniture in their apartments. While late to the show, the company has managed to outpace other pure players.

IKEA ecommerce

IKEA Place uses VR to allow users to easily visual what a piece of furniture will look like in their homes. Source: IKEA

Its push into applications could be attributed to world’s growing affinity for the mobile phone and by analyzing its own customer behavior. In Australia, the company’s website pulls in 40 million visits per year – 50% of which comes from mobile.

At this point in time, IKEA sells its products only on its own websites but has dabbled in the idea of establishing an official presence on Amazon but no confirmation has been made by the company yet.

There has however, been a partnership between IKEA’s “smart light bulbs” and Amazon’s virtual assistant device Echo to promote the latter’s line of smart home products. Owners of IKEA’s voice controlled light bulbs will be able to adjust the brightness of the bulbs through voice command by not only Alexa but Google and Apple’s Siri as well.

IKEA ecommerce

IKEA Smart Light Bulbs controlled by voice command.

“Unlike other companies, IKEA doesn’t fear the cannibalization of offline channels by online channels.

This is not without precedent, IKEA’s UK online store becoming the region’s largest outlet, without absorbing sales from existing stores.

“It’s just one among our many initiatives to make our products available for as many people as possible. And we are seeing big opportunities by leveraging upcoming digital technologies to their fullest,” said Inter IKEA Group Chief Executive Torbjörn Lööf.

THE FUTURE

IKEA Group is aiming for 50 billion euros in sales for 2020 and to open 18 new stores by end of year. It also has been eyeing growth opportunities in India and Southeast Asia but execution has taken much longer in these emerging markets.

As a fully independently owned company, IKEA must ensure that an average of 30% of the production value of sold goods should be sourced from within India, and within five years of the initial investment. As ecommerce is new to the Scandinavian company, it must test various fulfillment models including pickup points, third-party depots and the use of small-format stores for click and collect.

But the company hasn’t stopped making strides towards its aggressive target and continues to invest heavily in ecommerce. IKEA recently announced that a shoppable IKEA webstore would go live in Singaporein two weeks and in Malaysia in 2018.

IKEA ecommerce

Jesper Brodin, IKEA CEO. Source: dagensps.se

New IKEA CEO Jesper Brodin, who recently succeeded Agnefjall in May this year, will focus on building multi-channel retailing in almost all of its markets before 2017 finishes. He definitely has a tough job ahead moving the giant forward.

But according to Agnefjall, the CEO job involves “working 365 days a year, 15 to 16 hours per day”, which explains the admirable dedication founder Ingvar Kamprad still has for the company.

“Oh, I have so much work to do and no time to die,” he said.

Amen to that.

THE BACKGROUND

Popular travel site Expedia had its humble beginnings as a travel booking division by Microsoft in 1996, known as Microsoft Expedia Travel Services. The goal was to provide a groundbreaking method for customers to research and book their trips.

In the early 2000s, American media and internet company, IAC took over Expedia and what followed was a string of other ecommerce site acquisitions: Hotels.com, Hotwire, TripAdvisor, and China’s eLong.com.

“Buy, not build” would become the company’s repeated business strategy. Five years later in 2005, Expedia was listed on Nasdaq.

“We are always opportunistic,” commented Mark Okerstrom, Expedia’s then CFO. “The M&A team is never closed for business. We are always on the hunt for interesting opportunities and we’re fortunate to have an incredibly strong core business, which gives us the confidence to go out and do some of these acquisitions that are a little bit more intensive.”

Expedia Southeast Asia

Source: Expedia

THE CHALLENGE

Technology, as with most industries, has disrupted the travel business at a blink of an eye, shaping the expectations of travelers. New forms of “travel tech” such as fare comparison, travel design and emerging business models like Airbnb’s share economy, shook an industry that relied on travelers thinking only “where do I sleep?”

The internet granted people the luxury of a hassle free travel booking; best location, best hotel, best flight all for the best (lowest) price on one platform.

The arrival of Airbnb in 2008 changed the mindset of travelers – mainstream hotel chains no longer attracted them. Travelers sought property in remote, funky neighborhoods and relied on the local know-how of their host to explore destinations. Could Expedia compete with its traditional hotel offering?

Expedia Southeast Asia

Source: Phocuswright

THE STRATEGY

In order to cope with the volatile industry, Expedia did what it does best – opened its wallet for another acquisition. The company added Airbnb competitor HomeAway to its portfolio for a price tag of $3.9 billion in 2015.

Expedia Southeast Asia

Source: Nikkei Asia

The acquisition helped Expedia increase market share but is still behind Airbnb. In Q2/2017, Airbnb captured 15% of the global home-sharing market while Expedia and Priceline secured 12% and 9%, respectively.

Expedia, already with a stronghold in North America, realized that it needed to focus on emerging markets where 50% of the world’s millennials live and where its competitor, Priceline, established a leading position via Agoda.com and Booking.com.

Asia’s travel industry is expected to rise with a 12% CAGR during 2015 – 2020 to reach sales of $434 billion.

Asia Pacific is expected to remain the main driver of this performance, registering a 20% CAGR over the next five years, as internet adoption picks up in the region.

Expedia Southeast Asia

Source: Skift.com

In an attempt to compete with Priceline’s popular Booking.com, Expedia made a recent investment of $350 million into Indonesia-based Traveloka to bolster its presence in Southeast Asia as the company services six of the region’s primary markets.

“The US used to be the driver of our global strategy and other areas would follow,” expressed Dara Khosrowshahi, then CEO of Expedia in June 2017, only months before embarking to Uber. “But Asia is now driving our strategy.”

Unsurprising as the region’s internet economy is expected to grow from $31 billion in 2015 to $197 billion in ten years time. Travel is estimated to account for 45 of that, according to Google and Temasek.

“Our target is to at least double our share of the online travel marketplace in Asia[-Pacific]. I think we are on our way,” said Dara Khosrowshahi.

More specifically, Dara expected to increase gross number of bookings from its non-US businesses from the current 36% to two-thirds. It’s quite possible with Traveloka as an aid because Expedia can capture more of the 168 million Muslims expected to go abroad by 2020 as Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

Before his departure, Dara said there are two keys to winning Asia:

  1. Understanding Asian consumer habits
  2. A mobile-first attitude

To achieve this, the company operates Expedia Innovation Lab in Singapore where it uses sensor technology to understand how users feel while browsing Expedia-branded websites in 14 Asia-Pacific markets, including Australia, China, Thailand and Singapore, most of which have larger traffic volumes coming from mobile users.

Expedia Southeast Asia

Expedia Innovation Lab uses sensor technology to understand how consumers in Asia interact with its websites and services. Source: Nikkei Asia

THE FUTURE

The company is trying to fight for a stake in the fast-growing home-rental industry in Southeast Asia, where home rentals are still illegal as regulations have not caught up to the “share economy” while expanding its core hotel-booking business.

The company already has formed strong alliances with powerful players in the region such as AirAsia. Expedia acting as an official distributor through its agency AAE Travel can bundle AirAsia flights with hotel packages. But in a nascent market such as Southeast Asia, strong discounts are only the beginning as consumers have a plethora of travel agencies to choose from.

Good news? No single company occupies over 23% market share in any major Southeast Asian country.

THE BACKGROUND

Unicharm has been manufacturing feminine and baby care products in Japan since 1974. The company’s origin can be traced back to Taisei Kako Co., Ltd where it found its niche by selling feminine napkins in 1963. By the late 1990s, Unicharm had successfully expanded its business overseas.

Spurred by rising income levels and populations in Asia, Unicharm has become the leading company for the feminine, baby, and healthcare categories in Asia and No. 3 in the global market thanks to portfolio brands like MamyPoko, Charm, Sofy, and Wave.

Unicharm Southeast Asia

In 2011, the company bought a majority stake of 51% in US-based pet product and supply maker Hartz from Sumitomo Group to branch out its reach in household categories.

The company’s success caused it to become too comfortable and made it vulnerable to competition. What was Unicharm’s response?

THE CHALLENGES

“Signs of a market change started emerging around 2013,” recallsUnicharm President and CEO Takahisa Takahara. “We should have responded a little sooner.”

Decades of lounging in its throne as Asia’s market leader for inexpensive products lulled Unicharm into a false state of security that eventually caused it to slip behind competitors like Kao and Daio Paper for disposable diapers in key markets like Indonesia and China.

The company’s early entrance to Indonesia when the country’s GDP was still low allowed it to gain market share and its cheap range of products was introduced to first-time consumers in the small remote islands.

As the country’s living standards improve, the citizens can afford to become more selective and choose higher-end diapers. The company’s market share has reportedly dropped to below 60% from the previous 70%.

Unicharm Southeast Asia

Unicharm’s operating profit decreased overtime in Asia. Source: Nikkei

Meanwhile in China, the company has watched its market share fall to 8%, half of what it was three years ago.

“With the growing preference there [China] for high-end products and the rapid spread of ecommerce, high-quality Japanese diapers have become more popular, said Masashi Mori, an analyst at Credit Suisse Securities (Japan).

What’s Unicharm doing about all of this and can it make a comeback?

THE INNOVATION

Last year, Unicharm began to introduce premium line called ‘Natural Moony’, Japan’s first disposable diaper with a surface sheet containing organic cotton, to reserve a seat in the higher-end product category.

In addition to an official launch event in Tokyo, the company also held a Super Brand Day event on one of China’s biggest marketplaces, Tmall.

Unicharm Southeast Asia

Unicharm Chief Executive Officer Takahisa Tahara on Moony launch in Tmall

“We propose new standards for the way you select diapers by putting Natural Moony on the market under the slogan of ‘selecting diapers is selecting materials’,” explained Yoko Kawakami, Assistant Brand Manager at Unicharm’s Global Marketing department.

Unwilling to repeat the same mistake in China by catching onto ecommerce too late, the company has an official presence on e-marketplaces such as Lazada and 11street in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian markets.

Unicharm Southeast Asia

Unicharm’s official store in Lazada Indonesia

The brand was also one of the first available on Amazon Prime after its long-awaited launch in Singapore last month.

Unicharm has taken to publicity stunts to reach the eyes of its consumers by celebrating its iconic mascot’s birthday in Singapore by gifting new mothers with a care-package for newborns at the Thomson Medical Center.

On its 15th anniversary in Thailand, the company’s Mamypoko brand launched Poko Chan Point, the diaper market’s first rewards program that allows consumers to redeem free gifts from collecting points from a code attached to purchased products.

Unicharm Southeast Asia

MamyPoko’s Thailand Facebook post

“We believe that the key success mix includes the right product that best addresses customers’ needs and the right marketing programmes. Based on this belief, we will continue to bring to our customers the right programmes that will enhance their experience with our brand,” said Unicharm Thailand Managing Director Tadashi Nakai.

THE STRATEGY

When the brand first entered India in 2009, it was the first to offer underwear-shaped diapers ahead of giants like Kimberly Clark and P&G. The reward was an 85% jump in sales and 42% in modern trademarket share.

“When there’s a low penetration or usage in certain categories, most companies do the obvious — try to develop the market with existing and affordable products,” said Devendra Chawla, Food and FMCG President at Future Group.

“Unicharm tried a different route by launching innovative products, which not just helped expand the market, but also in the process, diverted the entire segment towards their portfolio style, taking leadership while doing market development simultaneously.”

Unicharm believes in employing the same proven technique for the other emerging markets such as the Middle East, and Africa.

“The setting-up and acquiring of business operations in potential countries in the region is part of the key strategy set to grow our diaper and sanitary napkin business in Asia, particularly in emerging markets,” said Takumi Terakawa, Managing Director of Unicharm Thailand.

The company has also looked beyond Southeast Asia’s most popular markets. In 2013, Unicharm acquired Burmese diaper company MyCare that holds over 50% market share in the country.

In a company statement regarding the decision, “our management decision to acquire Mycare has been on the grounds that new markets are being created and overwhelming share is further secured by accelerating the speed of brand penetration through the expansion of product availability.”

THE FUTURE

Unicharm is targeting a consolidated plan of $7.2 billion in 2020 with sales growth at 7% CAGR and plans to tackle Asia first before pushing a global agenda.

Unicharm Southeast Asia

“Our goal is to build a dominant market presence in Asia, the world’s largest market for nonwoven fabric and absorbent material products,” said CEO Unicharm Takahisa Takahara.

“This will be a key step toward achieving our vision of becoming a leading company in the global market.”