What does “hito, mono, and utsuwa” mean?
United Arrows Ltd.'s business concept includes three words: "hito, mono, and utsuwa" (Great service, Great products, and Great environment). "Hito" means highly refined customer service, "mono" are products manufactured in a suitable quantity and selection eyeing the world, and "utsuwa" are store facilities, spaces, and environments designed for true comfort. These words serve as guidelines for United Arrows to pursue the values it matches. So when did they start using these three keywords and what are their thoughts behind them? I asked Hirofumi Kurino, one of the founding members and buzzword creators of United Arrows Ltd.
We had to express our strong passion with strong words in a more concise, calm, and simpler way.
– First of all, please explain the three words, “hito, mono, and utsuwa” according to United Arrows Ltd.
Kurino: This is only my own interpretation, but 26 years after United Arrows Ltd. was established, we seemed to have lost sight of what was important to us. We began to realize that we didn’t have something to work toward straight on. Also, even though the physical distance between our stores and customers did not change, we were afraid that our presence would become too distant for customers as the company grew larger. So we thought about what was truly important to us if the company were to continue operating 50 or 100 years from now. To express this in simple terms, we thought of “hito, mono, and utsuwa.”
– What did you go through to come up with these words?
Kurino: These words were originally for our employees. To make them understand the basics of United Arrows Ltd. as a fashion retailer and the elements it comprised. When United Arrows opened its first store on July 20, 1990 on Meiji-dori road in Shibuya, Tokyo, we were not calm enough to create keywords for the public. I think we were more preoccupied and enthused with giving great customer service, procuring great products, and making it a great store. However, as we got more employees, we had to express our strong passion with strong words in a more concise, calm, and simpler way. I don’t remember when the words were created, but I think that Mr. Shigematsu, our honorary chairman, issued these words when it was necessary. And during the 26 years since, the idea of providing customers with a great environment by offering great customer service, great products, and great stores has not changed.
– Of the three, what is the role of “hito?”
Kurino: I have to talk a little about history, but the postwar 1950s was a period of invention. The 1960s was about mass production and pop culture. And the 1970s saw a revolt against consumerism and materialism epitomized by the hippie culture. Then in the 1980s, Japan, which had worked hard to rebuild after losing the war, accumulated much capital, resulting in the so-called “bubble economy.” However, this bubble collapsed from the end of the 1980s to the start of the 1990s. A paradigm shift then occurred where having a lot of assets and luxury goods was still not enough to make people happy.
– A similar phenomenon also happened in the fashion industry?
Kurino: At that time, we had already realized that no matter how much people consume and buy material things, they won’t be happy unless their hearts are happy. We felt that the main focus was shifting away from the clothes maker who was just producing Western clothes. It was the consumer who would choose the clothing, modify it, and wear it. The main focus shifted to this two-way communication between the clothier and customer. We thought that the place for this communication was the store and staff. We had to understand the customer and communicate with genuine sincerity to make their hearts happy with our customer service. In other words, as a retailer, it is most important to have staff (hito) who can deeply care about the relationship between people and products. This is what you would expect.
Learning what touches people’s hearts, what motivates people, and why people buy things makes selling something to be proud of.
– Explain what kind of people (“hito”) United Arrows Ltd. is aiming to be.
Kurino: What we consider to be “ideal people” has not changed since long ago. It’s more like society has come closer to match our ideal. Most retailers today realize that products won’t sell without the human factor displayed by the sales staff. Expressing sincerity and care toward the customer is actually not difficult. It works on the basic premise of being on the same level as the customer, treating them as an equal. Treat customers as you would want to be treated. Don’t treat them as you would not like to be treated. This will naturally make your words, attitude, and customer service more caring. I consider this to be Japan’s “omotenashi spirit” of customer service and hospitality that we can boast to the world.
– So this results in a pleasant time that could receive the name of “hospitality,” then?
Kurino: Such high-class manners and atmosphere are also certainly related to “mono” and “utsuwa.” And vice versa. There’s no class in “mono” (product) that was made in a flash looking ostentatious and in “utsuwa” (environment) that is too decorative and too overboard. It cannot be a paper tiger.
– Is good customer service equal to customer service effective for sales?
Kurino: Really good customer service will ultimately result in sales. However, there’s a difference between being good and being skillful. If you think some strategy is skillful and continue to use it as a standard practice for customer service, your store will have no future. If you have a set pattern or mindset to make a sale, your customers will soon get tired of it.
– “Hito” requires originality, right?
Kurino: “Hito” (people) having originality and their own uniqueness can express their humanness much better than those who are only skillful at language. They can keep a respectful distance from customers. Instead of being overbearing, continuing to refine your efforts is much more important than studying 100 sales manuals. When the customer is happy to make a purchase, you may well have a returning customer.
Learning what touches people’s hearts, what motivates people, and why people buy things makes selling something to be proud of. If you don’t have this experience, you can’t plan products nor become a wholesale buyer. “Hito” is therefore very important.
– For the last question, what does “hito” mean to you?
Kurino: I think it is a person who can treat others with the same great care he or she treats oneself. Or it is someone who can treat oneself as well as he or she treats others. I feel that, on the other hand, when you care too much about others, you may tend to think that you are not good enough if you were to become sick. You should always give the same level of importance to yourself and to others. This is the “hito” we aim for.
Born in 1953. Works in creative direction and as a senior advisor. Worked in the fashion industry since 1977. A frequent judge at the graduation show for the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. In 2004, received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal College of Art in the UK.