Using Direct Mail to Develop Sales Outlets for the Cub F-Type / 1952

Using Direct Mail to Develop Sales Outlets for the Cub F-Type / 1952

By the time Fujisawa joined the Honda management team, Japan had already bade farewell to the days when dealers came with cash in their knapsacks and paid in advance. A lot of motorcycle manufacturers had started up and it was now a buyers’ market. There were only about 300 dealerships in the whole of Japan and of these about twenty represented Honda but they were not, of course, exclusive Honda dealers. As a late comer into the field Honda had to supply all its products on consignment and the payment terms had to favor the buyer. Up until that time, there had been an extreme imbalance between Honda’s production capacity and its sales capacity.

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The Cub F-Type, "the red engine with the white tank", was a hit creation that dominated its time. As a result of Fujisawas direct mail strategy, it was sold in about 15,000 bicycle shops, and was widely used throughout Japan.

Soichiro Honda gave Fujisawa complete responsibility for strengthening the company’s corporate sales position and conducting negotiations with its bankers. Another difficulty at first was finding a way of improving the inefficient system for collecting payment, but the biggest fundamental problem was to break free of the company’s weak marketing position and develop networks of agents and dealers.

Kihachiro Kawashima, who eventually reached the position of executive vice-president, was close to Fujisawa during those early years and had a chance to observe his clever planning, careful thinking and decisiveness. "I joined the company in 1951, much later than Mr. Kiyoshi Kawashima and Mr. Shirai. After graduating from the university I went back to my home town in Shizuoka and ran my own oil business. I heard that a motorbike manufacturing company called Honda was looking for salesmen. Since my own business didn’t look as though it had much of a future and I thought Honda seemed like an interesting company, I thought I would have a look and went to Hamamatsu. The first person who interviewed me was Soichiro Honda. Even though he looked just like the boss of a small local workshop, at this first meeting he remarked casually ‘Our company is going to be the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer’ but even so there was nothing unpleasant or arrogant about him; he was surprisingly charismatic. ‘If you want to be a salesman,’ I was told, ‘you’d better meet Fujisawa,’ so I went off to Tokyo where I found Mr. Fujisawa in a residential building next to a fishmonger’s shop, holding a flyswatter to keep off the flies that came from the shop," he laughs. "At first glance, it didn’t look like the sort of place one would entrust one’s future career to, but it was clear that Mr. Fujisawa was thinking on a grand scale. He explained that Soichiro Honda was going to make the best bikes in the world and that his job was to work out a way of selling them. I could see at once that Fujisawa was captivated by Honda’s technical knowledge and philosophy of production."

Despite the company’s uninspiring appearance, Kawashima was strongly taken with both men and decided on the spot to join Honda. After doing three months’ practical experience at Hamamatsu Factory on his own suggestion he went up to work at the Tokyo Sales branch.

About the time the E-Type was launched, the Japanese economy started to turn around and sales were on the up, but Honda was still working within the same old-fashioned marketing culture. It wasn’t going to be an easy task to transform business habits that had developed over many years. The Tokyo branch’s sales territory covered the area from the Kanto region northwards. Kawashima and the other young sales people dashed around all over Tokyo and right up to the north-east of the country in an effort to develop new-style agencies. Often when they called on car dealers they would be asked, "What does this Honda company do?" Still, with a great deal of effort they managed to secure contracts with a few dealers.

In April 1952, Honda’s Head Office was transferred from Hamamatsu to 3-3 Maki-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. But the office looked little better than it had before.

"Fujisawa was always waiting for the right moment, hanging on patiently until the time would come when the company could take a big gamble with a product that suited the mass market", explains Kawashima.

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