NEWS - 1st Symposium

Report:entrepreneurs struggle to corporate restructuring in the affected areas(1)

Categories: 1st Symposium

Aiming for management with a brighter prospect for the future in the environment affected by the nuclear accident

Representative Director of Kikuchi Corporation./ Executive Director of the Fukushima Association

■ Reporter’s Company Overview
Establishment: 1950
Stated capital: 40 million yen
Annual turnover: 10.2 billion yen
Number of employees: 692 (full-time: 112, part-time: 580)
Business: Grocery supermarket

Kikuchi Corporation has been in the business for 150 years. Having actively employed local new graduates, Kikuchi accomplished a sales figure of 10 billion yen in 2009. The prospects had been good for the company when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred, and then the nuclear accident… At their stores on the day of the earthquake itself, the store managers appropriately decided to continue providing the local community with “food” by handing out unsold meals to neighbors, delivering undamaged goods to shelters, holding a uniform sale in front of the stores during the blackout, etc. Even though no communications with the head office were possible, each store manager made a decision based on the company’s management philosophy. While taking in young employees’ uneasiness about staying put, they are now planning new strategies.



There are 85 corporate members in the Soso district which was damaged by the Fukushima nuclear plant. 18 members whose office is located within a 20-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant are still unable to go home. Although their offices and factories are still standing, no one is allowed to go in. There are 46 corporate members within an 80-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant, and they have free access to the area. Only one of the 85 members was forced out of business, but most of the remaining 84 members have reopened for business and are doing what they can.
We have recently published a book called “Entrepreneurs facing adversity” (available in Japanese only), in which the drama as well as the heart and soul of the 85 members in the Soso district were compressed. I would very much like you to read it. Frankly speaking, I honestly believed that I could not be in a more dreadful situation than anybody else at the time of the earthquake. However, reading this book has made me realize that many colleagues of the Association conducted themselves while giving the local community priority over their personal matters. Secretariat staff from the Associations nationwide gathered to the Soso district to collect the members’ voices and turn them into writings. Meanwhile, having looked at the manuscript made from the interviews, some members wished to write it themselves and did so.


Providing the local community with food


After the explosion at the nuclear plant, I was in a state of panic anyway. Not only had I felt completely exhausted by clearing up mud at the store hit by the tsunami for a week, but my anxiety about the future had also been persisting because customers kept on lining up for goods and our shelves kept on being emptied day after day. Goods were scraped up somehow by the merchandise division. Since our distribution center in Sendai had been washed away by the tsunami, I gathered up trucks from colleagues of the Association to make every effort to collect goods. With the spirit of doing anything possible at any cost, whether for connections of the Association or for employees’ relatives, I was tackling tasks of securing goods and marketing them. In the beginning, only a sense of mission to provide food was driving me to work, but I soon renewed my understanding that we were indeed vital for the local community by a chance word from a customer: “Thank you for opening the store”. It made me fully realize the significance of providing the local community with food.
Shortly after the earthquake in March and April, during which the nuclear plant was still unstable, we were having meetings every day because I was thinking seriously about eventually transferring functions of the head office to Sendai. In the course of the series of meetings, our employees gathered to sort out and double-check what they should do to deal with radioactive materials. First of all, what should be done to protect consumers was discussed, leading to a conclusion that “food safety” was always paramount. Until the nuclear accident, we had been endorsing local production for local consumption and mainly marketing locally-produced freshly-delivered vegetables/fish, but it had become no longer possible. Therefore, considering we were now in the same condition as supermarkets in Tokyo, we looked for suppliers throughout Japan which could supply safe goods. Disappointingly, things still stand that goods produced in Fukushima prefecture is small in number.
The next thing we felt we should do was to disseminate various information as a community, in particular, for those who had been forced to live as refugees after the earthquake and unable to read newspapers. The store manager at each store would go to its nearest public office every day for administrative measures and post the latest day-to-day information on the store’s entrance. When it became possible for us to distribute advertising inserts from May onwards, the administrative information appeared alongside usual product advertisements.
There were indeed a significant number of people who had been forced to live as refugees. A large volume of relief supplies was delivered to shelters, but many people did not have anything to eat not only because people with habitable houses stayed put at home but also because the nuclear accident prohibited them from going out. We considered continuously providing these people with goods as our mission, and we gathered goods by every conceivable means.
Moreover, we invited a number of public entertainers for emotional care of the victims, and parts of our stores were spared every weekend for mini concerts, etc. since the civic center was used as a shelter and therefore unavailable. The place was also made available for food companies to offer their products. Everyone was making frantic efforts to cheer up the disaster-stricken region, and we only gave them a hand along the way.


Making the company’s prospect brighter for the future


In those days, our employees were also anxious about the future. Since I believed we could all feel somewhat positive by discussing the company’s future, I announced that we would make it a 20 billion-yen company. We had achieved 10 billion yen in sales just after the earthquake, but we were then in a situation that we could only manage half that without the resumption of business in Minamisoma. Our employees must have wondered why the president was talking about “doubling the sales” under these adverse circumstances. Not to mention, he announced to aim for quadrupling the projected dismal sales figure to 20 billion yen.
We all discussed our future positively, saying that we would have to open some more stores in order to achieve the almost impossible and it would also make it possible for us to employ more people locally above all else. We then planned to open a total of two stores, one in Zao-machi, Miyagi in July 2012 and the other in the neighborhood of Sendai Airport in 2013, which had been destroyed by the tsunami.
In the end, we chose to protect our employees and restore the sales figure by ourselves rather than wait for business in Minamisoma to resume without any prospect. We had laid down our course that the reopening of the stores in Minamisoma should be considered a bonus. In the meantime, we were able to reopen three out of the four stores in Minamisoma. Despite the reopening, it was a complete fresh start with the sales figure dropping by more than 50% when compared with previous figures. In any case, we just continued doing our best to increase the number of customers one by one from that in the previous week. Fortunately, the sales figures at the reopened three stores in Minamisoma have exceeded those before the earthquake. It would be our greatest pleasure if running the best supermarket in Minamisoma somehow encouraged those who are currently away from Minamisoma to come home. Many people lost their family as well as their home. Having experienced the grim situation with no bright prospects for two years, I fully realize the significance of a brighter prospect. With the Association taking the initiative in Minamisoma, the “Forum for the City of Hope: Minamisoma-shi” has recently been launched. It is for discussing courses of action to be taken for Minamisoma in a decade’s time while listening to every opinion. In order to steady ourselves for the future, I believe that we have to hold our ground and clear the way forward together with colleagues in the Soso district.

(Recorded by TOMINAGA, Takuma, Secretariat of the National Conference of Association of Small Business Entrepreneurs)

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