TV & Radio
Firms see sales boosted by a woman's touch
The Yomiuri Shimbun
More women shop assistants are now helping men choose a suit, tie or car as female workers find positions in workplaces that are traditionally male-dominated.
When it comes to buying a suit or car, a man's partner has a strong say in the choice. And a saleswoman is often better suited than her male colleagues when it comes to exchanging opinions with the male customer's wife or girlfriend.
In August, Aoyama Trading Co. decided to appoint an all-female staff--including the manager--at the Miyanosawa branch of Aoyama Suits Kobo Sapporo, one of its outlets in Sapporo.
At the outset, about half of the employees were female, just like at other Aoyama stores. The change to an all-female staff was an experiment to try to make the store stand out from its rivals.
"We've tried to create a relaxed atmosphere," said Midori Uesugi, the 27-year-old manager. Being attentive to the store's interior decor, she put flowers at the entrance and a flower-patterned cloth over a table by the cash register.
All products at the store are for men, but many customers come in with their partners to shop. It is often the partners who have the final say on what the man buys.
According to Uesugi, male clerks tend to have the same point of view as male customers and usually recommend products that are conservative in design and color. On the other hand, female clerks can suggest a look that appeals to women, and also chat with the man's partner. As a result, female employees are more likely to feel confident in recommending goods that are pricier, she said.
"Women still have the feeling that they can't beat men. But when we're among only women, we get competitive. This leads us to work harder," Uesugi said.
She added: "Men are concerned about the hierarchy in the workplace. Women are not so worried about that, which makes decision-making faster."
The store's sales were up 39.8 percent in September compared with the same period last year, although before the personnel change the figure usually remained little changed, year on year.
Aoyama Trading will watch the store's performance for the next couple of years and then decide whether to staff its other stores exclusively with women.
This summer, Nissan Motor Co. announced that it would increase the number of female employees at its 2,600 dealerships.
By 2007, Nissan plans to increase to 10 percent the proportion of its female "car life advisers," a position held by only 3.6 percent of its female employees last year. The ratio of women serving as technical advisers, who offer consultations on shaken vehicle inspections, will be increased from 7 percent to 10 percent in the same period.
Nissan will ask its dealerships to work toward realizing the goal by transferring female workers in management or desk jobs if finding suitable female recruits is difficult.
The firm issued a handbook in September instructing its dealership managers on issues related to using female employees to better effect. The 37-page manual covers topics such as child care leave.
The firm's salespeople have traditionally been male because its customers are mostly men. According to a survey conducted by Nissan, however, the decision on which vehicle model to buy was made by the male customer's family in 30 percent of cases, with the wife usually having the last word. Fewer men bought cars based only on their own preferences.
With this trend in mind, a Nissan employee said, "We want to get ahead of the competition by expanding the number of our female sales personnel. It's unbalanced if we only have salesmen."
Prof. Machiko Osawa of Japan Women's University pointed out that as more women are making decisions on their families' consumption, a salesperson needs to feel empathy with them, and so companies have decided that female workers tend to best at playing this role.
"It will create an environment in which positions will open up for women in male-dominated companies. Hopefully, it will lead to the realization of gender equality in the workplace," she said.
(Oct. 22, 2005)