TOKYO (TR) – People aligning themselves with a unique hairstyle is nothing new. But Tsutomu Morita is likely the first pitchman via pompadour. “Some people don’t believe it is real,” Morita says in a back room of his discount luxury-brands store, referring to the black bulbous bob that hangs over his eyes. “Others think I have something hidden inside.”
In one recent program on TV Asahi, the bespectacled Morita was seen riding through Shinjuku in central Tokyo in the back of a white Mercedes with the window down, his puffy hairdo dutifully holding its shape. Then, when the 62-year-old emerged outside his shop, his red Hermes tie, 3.1-million yen Rolex watch and dark Dolce & Gabbana suit appeared mere afterthoughts in comparison to his cantilevered coiffure.
The show then shifted into his cramped Brand King Royal showroom, where Morita proudly showed off a lineup of handbags from labels Gucci, Coach and Prada. When his discounted prices flashed on the screen, he punctuated each with his signature gesture — white-gloved right hand frozen forward in a quasi-karate pose, with his head (and of course puffy wave) tilted at a slight angle.
However, speaking with Morita, who as director at Brand King Royal has risen to guru status within Japan’s massive brand-goods industry, reveals that perhaps more than this Tokyo native’s hallmark haircut might be slightly askew.
Twelve years ago, Morita brokered real estate and — believe it or not — suffered from baldness. He then switched to selling designer bags, wallets and jewelry to women. “I thought that if women came to my store, their essence would rejuvenate my hair,” he very casually explains.
Such claims are common from a self-promoter like Morita, whose manner of rapport might find him drifting from one topic to the next without cue, or repeating stories of his past sales experience. Some of his favorites in that vein involve his pre-real estate days of routinely renting hotel banqueting rooms and filling them to capacity. If pressed (though the pressing needn’t be hard), he will regale those around with a story of how 4,000 eager shoppers — or maybe it was 3,000, but in any case, it was a lot — packed the sidewalk in front of his store one April day in 1999.
His recent book, “99% is Decided by Sales,” offers insights to his strategy, which he says is based on doing things others are not. “If you want to see beautiful flowers,” he says, “you have to take the back road — where nobody else is.”
His initial plan in the brand business involved approaching editors at women’s fashion magazines (JJ, CanCam, and Ray) to inform them that his business carried the latest and most rare items. In turn, he wound up on their pages. For seducing television, he posted a sign in his shop urging customers suffering from baldness, possessing droopy eyes, or having job problems to ask a clerk for a free gift, which might have been a small jewelry box or phone strap. Later, he installed his “Kami no Ke no Jinja” (Hair Shrine), which features a nearly life-size Morita doll framed by a wooden torii.
Word of his wackiness spread, and broadcasters invited him into their studios. His multiple appearances often featured the introduction of a unique fukubukuro, or “lucky bag,” which comprised miscellaneous items unknown to the buyer. “Major department stores usually stuff their bags with boring items they can’t sell,” Morita explains. “But I always try to make mine interesting.”
For a little amusement, the “Kozo Kaikaku” (structural reform bag), includes a pair of boxing gloves and a doll of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose economic reform policies led to uncertain times. “When people are suffering,” Morita explains, “they have to come back fighting.”
Much of Morita’s shelf space is dedicated to Louis Vuitton, whose monogrammed leather bags and wallets can be combined as a single fukubukuro for roughly half their retail price. How can he offer such deals to his customers, most of whom are female office workers and housewives from the countryside?
In one segment in that same TV Asahi program, Morita was seen in his back room negotiating in earnest with a broker over roughly 400 bags. Though one way of obtaining brand goods at a discount is by “parallel importing,” in which genuine products intended for another market (China, for example) are brought in and then sold cheaply, Morita would not admit to such a practice.
The Japan branches for Louis Vuitton and Hermes wished to not comment on another company’s business. A representative from Coach Japan simply stated: “The only way to ensure that one is purchasing a Coach product is to buy through a recognized distribution channel, such as a Coach store.”
Morita will only say that his means of acquisition is “standard,” and that his merchandise is all authentic, just like his hair, which he seems much more eager to talk about.
His pompadour, or “regent” in Japan, became part of his routine seven years ago, when he claims the power of femininity began to work its magic. Each day, Morita, who lives in Tokyo with his wife and young son, invests roughly an hour tending to his follicles. A seven-step routine involves washing with natural soap (not shampoo, because of its harmful chemicals, he says); draping the scalp with a steaming hot towel to open the pores; and a light dabbing with a brush.
To achieve the proper angle, Morita first lets his hair hang down over his face. A comb is then used to carefully upturn the dangling strands into the desired shape, with spray applied for rigidity.
Such strong support, however, has been lacking recently in the brand business. While Japan continues to exhibit cult-like devotion to Louis Vuitton — which makes 40 percent of its global sales in Japan — the overall market has been trending down for a decade, according to Tokyo’s respected Yano Research Institute.
Morita believes the reason for the decline is that [gulp] Japanese women are increasingly becoming lax in their dress, even approaching the standards of — Americans. “Women are choosing to wear jeans,” Morita explains. “Brand goods don’t go well with denim.”
As a result, Morita has diversified. Doctor Royal, a company that peddles soap and lotions, was founded in 2005. While Royal University is a free service located on his colorful and continually blinking Web page site that carries video lectures on such subjects as golf, table manners and stock-picking.
“You have to have a balance between your work and hobbies,” he says. “If you don’t know how to enjoy your life, you cannot work.”
For Morita, staying sharp will always be the key. “Being successful in the brand business is not simply about discounting,” he says. “It is about adapting to the changing marketplace.”
And no shampoo, remember — absolutely no shampoo.
Note: This story originally appeared in the July 15th edition of the Japan Times as a part of the Week 3 feature.