Kamiwaza - the hidden art behind a good retail business


Kamiwaza is a Japanese word, which, loosely translated, means "godlike" or "superhuman skill".

Although it is often used in terms of sport performances, for entrepreneur David Donde, founder of Truth Coffee Roasting, kamiwaza should also be applied when it comes to retail businesses.

Truth Coffee Roasting specialises in selecting and roasting what it deems to be the world's most exclusive coffees. Furthermore, it has been voted the world's best coffee shop by The Daily Telegraph for two years in a row.

In the view of Donde, the reason why many retailers are suffering in the current challenging economic climate in South Africa, is because they are "seeking the average in an attempt to appeal to everyone".

"We are programmed in retail to try and play it safe. Instead, you have to rather ask who you are truly trying to make happy and then drive a real experience you are creating for them," he told delegates at the annual conference of the SA Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC) in Cape Town on Thursday.

He also suggests that retailers look at how to get employees to be innovative, instead of being scared they will get fired if they try something different.

"Kamiwaza is about doing something for the sheer joy of taking it to the extreme, of going where no one has ever gone before. For me that means not working just to make your budget," said Donde.

"If you want to disrupt your industry, it cannot just be about creating more 'noise'. Retailers have been programmed to 'shout' their marketing - it is about having the bigger billboard or having more PR. In my mind, however, marketing is about having a true story worth repeating."

In his view, there are three ways a business can be structured. The focus can either be on operations (ops); on the relationship with the customer; or on the product offered.

"In my view it is too expensive for a company to optimise for all three types of business focus. At the same time, when your product is very good, it will likely seem that the relationship is good, and the ops is perfect. The same goes if you are a very good ops focused company. Then product and relationship will appear good too," he explained.

"If you are going to succeed - you must define what your world looks like and you must either be the cheapest or the greatest in the world. The Great Depression actually filtered out mediocrity and we are seeing this happen in the current economic situation as well. Currently, the cheapest products do well, and the best products do well but mediocrity is out the window."

The problem with offering the cheapest product, however, is that someone else can come along and be even cheaper, so he would rather be the best.

"I looked at the world of fine coffee and we did the hard work to get where we are today. Kamiwaza is hard work, but when you look back, you experience the joy of having done the thing that supposedly could not be done by truly innovating. Do what needs to be done and build a true story with meaning," he concluded.

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