Sakamoto is part of a trend that is not restricted to the housing market. While Japan has lagged behind other large economies in terms of subscription-based businesses, the model is finally catching on as consumers search for personalized, cost-effective alternatives to access products and services with recurring fees.
From suppliers of housing and transportation to purveyors of food and beverages, subscription-based companies are popping up everywhere, demonstrating resilience and potential even in the midst of a pandemic.
Today’s consumers can subscribe to an ever-expanding range of products: meal kits, cosmetics, apparel, furniture â€” even cars. For businesses, it’s an opportunity to establish long-term relationships with their customers and secure steady revenue streams. For consumers, the growing array of services allows them to access personalized experiences, such as made-to-order selections of bread and coffee.
Pan For You is a startup based in Gunma Prefecture that delivers gourmet bread produced by a selection of bakeries to households and offices for a set monthly fee.
“As a business, a fixed-fee model simplifies our operation,” says Kenta Yano, founder and CEO of the company. “We also found there was demand for quality bread deliveries, so a subscription service was the natural solution.
For Â¥2,900 a month plus delivery fees, subscribers receive a box that contains between six and 10 pieces of freshly baked and frozen bread from one of the 35 bakeries Pan For You collaborates with. Customers don’t know which bakery the bread will be delivered from, which, Yano says, is part of the fun. The bread can be heated up at home using an oven toaster. There are currently around 3,000 individual subscribers, he says.
Meanwhile, roughly 150 firms have signed up so far for Pan For You’s office delivery service, which involves a monthly delivery of typically around 200 to 300 pieces of bread from multiple bakeries. Sales are soaring, Yano says, with revenue in July, for example, quadrupling compared to the same period last year.
“Despite the shrinking population, the market for bread is expanding, so it’s a good business to be involved in,” he says.
According to a report by Fuji Keizai, last year’s sales figure for the domestic market for bread, once the totals are combined, is expected to be Â¥2.78 trillion, and the forecast is for that to grow to Â¥2.81 trillion in 2020.
“I think the subscription business model will continue to expand, partially because of the wealth of information we now have access to through the internet,” Yano says. “Consumers are overwhelmed with choices. That provides opportunities for businesses like us to offer personalized services to alleviate the hassle of having to make decisions.”
Stay-at-home requests by municipalities amid the pandemic are also working in the favor of companies such as PostCoffee Co., a startup that offers deliveries of boxes of customized whole or ground specialty coffee the highest grade available using single origin or single estate coffee. After taking a 10-question online quiz, a customer is matched with three of the more than 30 varieties of speciality coffee that are delivered each month.
“COVID-19 has helped our business, with more folks opting to stay home and purchasing quality goods to enhance their lifestyles,” says Ryo Shimomura, president of the firm.
Customers can provide feedback via the company’s website and request a particular bean they may like. And in case a customer wants to learn more about the bean they’re drinking, Post Coffee also operates a brick-and-mortar store in Tokyo that offers free coffee tasting experiences.