Since launching kay me in 2011, I’ve always known that I wanted kay me to be an international brand. However, when I decided to make this a reality one of the first things I considered was the talent pool and global reach of various different locations. My team and I discussed many international financial hubs including Frankfurt and Singapore, but settled on London because it has many of the resources we were looking for: a wide range of creative talent, other established luxury brands and is a vibrant, multi-cultural city.
For all of us here in Japan, it was incredibly exciting to establish our first overseas subsidiary, but at the same time, it was unknown territory. We are lucky in that we have a UK national, Nick Faulkner as a shareholder and Director, which certainly helps in terms of navigating the finer details and representing kay me in important meetings.
This navigation was crucial when we arrived in the UK as one of the biggest issues we faced was setting up a bank account. We felt that the main UK banks were only really interested in accepting existing big business, and whilst we are pretty big in Japan (£3.5 million annual turnover), this didn’t seem to make a difference in the UK. We eventually managed to get a bank account set up through Metro Bank, who was recommended to us by our retained accounting and legal advisors, Accounts and Legal, who are London based and specalise in helping small international businesses to establish in the UK. We were impressed by their specialisation, transparent fee structure and thorough approach.
With the Brexit issue now decided, we don’t feel at all put-off from the UK as an investment and growth opportunity for our brand. This is because we feel that all of the underlying strengths, such as its global reach and vibrancy, are still there. Like everyone, we are waiting to see how the next 6-12 months plays out, especially around EU legislation, but we’re confident that we will continue to grow with London as part of our international portfolio.
Many of the online regulations that we had to deal with for the online retail part of our business come from Brussels, such as Cookies and returns regulations, which meant that we had to get our heads around both UK and European rules. Like everyone else, we are not certain how these will evolve post Brexit, but we are prepared to take advice and remain adaptable.
Launching in London
In Japan we have four bricks and mortar outlets; our flagship kay me store in Ginza (Tokyo’s Mayfair) and one in downtown Osaka, plus concessions in two Tokyo department stores, Odakyu and Mistsukoshi, so we thought we were well versed in securing space, but the UK is a whole different story.
In the UK we’ve looked at retail space in shopping centres as well as on the High Street, and found that opportunities are somewhat limited for newer brands, especially in the shopping centres. Our experience with department stores has been mixed, as while many are interested in our product, they asked for UK exclusivity. As a new entrant into the market with established sales in Japan, this isn’t appealing.
We have researched amongst focus groups and experimented with pop-ups to test the market, including holding a successful event in Piccadilly. We are also really pushing ahead with our international e-commerce site www.kayme.co.uk which offers free global shipping.
The future of kay me
We are delighted with the success of kay me so far but, we are always looking to the future and how the business can grow and develop. In the short-term we are looking to grow kay me in London particularly establishing it in the City and Canary Wharf areas as they have a high concentration of potential kay me customers. In the long-term, we would like to expand kay me to five countries over the next 10 years. These would be cities known primarily as strong financial capitals such as New York and Singapore.
Our journey is still very much in the early stages, but our UK experience to date shows many similarities between Europeans and our Japanese customer base in terms of their needs and tastes, and we feel confident that we will continue to grow with London as part of our international portfolio.