Yuko Nakao lives in Bondi Beach, NSW. Her business, Shokunin Store, imports traditional Japanese crafts including premium gardening tools, kitchen tools and homeware.
I was born and raised in Japan and after coming to Australia for university, I moved here permanently in 1999. I was trained in PR and advertising, but possibly because I’m not a citizen and I have language and cultural barriers, it was really hard to get a job that I was happy in. Being a migrant, and my husband not from Sydney, we didn’t have any relatives to ask for support with the kids. It was really difficult for me to get a nine-to-five job, so I wanted to start my own business from home.
I was helping my husband with this import business, but I was doing all the negotiations in Japanese and he’s too busy as a landscaper, so I asked him if I could run it. He’s my A-team, I consult with him a lot, but our business decisions are different. I wanted to try it my way. I also wanted to finance it myself, and, one night I was watching an SBS program that mentioned Global Sisters. I googled it and was so intrigued that I decided to sign up for Sister School. I was really eager to find out who the people behind it were and to see their work up close. I never imagined they would support me so much.
Sister School was a real eye-opener because when you’re on your own, you make assumptions. You realise it’s very dangerous to assume and not analyse. I initially focused on wholesale and had nearly given up on direct sales, but Global Sisters’ coaching convinced me to rethink my online sales. My website started picking up, my direct sales started going up and I also had some media exposure, which boosted my page views by 200 per cent. I made 10 per cent of my annual online sales in one week.
I’m working in a male-dominated industry, but Global Sisters encourages me to see this as advantageous. They helped my business to be exposed in that light: challenging the man’s world. I guess it’s a bit of a surprise for some of my suppliers in Japan when they learn it is my business and that I make the decisions, not my husband. Dealing with them became easier when I could show them what I’d achieved – they now take me more seriously and know that I mean business.
There’s a particular product that reminds me to believe in myself. I had a hunch it would sell well. They were metallic rose gold scissors, called sakura, or cherry blossom. So many products in my industry looked so masculine, but these scissors were getting a lot of attention in Japan and I had a feeling they would sell well in Australia. My husband wasn’t keen. I decided I would back myself and own the loss. I did – and they are still my best-sellers.
Product design, knives particularly, is generally done by men in Japan. It’s very unusual for women to do it. But, for the first time in 106 years – and with 800 years of R&D behind them – one Japanese company has got a woman to design and consult on blades. I had to contact them. I went there with my passion and said ‘I need this product.’ They are a huge company and they wondered ‘Who is this woman?’ The company was full of men but they recognised the potential of a woman. I want to do business with men who see that gender equality matters. They said I approach differently to the rest of their male distributors, which I take as a great compliment
”I have Global Sisters to thank for such moments of triumph.Yuko NakaoShokunin Store