Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Secret to Service

A recent article (commented on by bartman905) listed Tokyo as the most expensive city to live in, and the most expensive for ex-pats. It is true that you can drop $30 for a 6-pack of beer, or $5 on an apple (but it's a really big apple), but the current downturn in the economy is affecting everyone in Japan, and there are bargains to be found if you know where to look (an example is at the Watabe Shouten import store in Akihabara down the street from the UDX building, just the other side of Chuu-ou Dori (discounted chocolate bars, and bags of dried fruit).

But, it's not really just about price. Back in December, I bought my Giant Seek cross bike for about $500. I probably could have gotten it for a few hundred dollars less and used some of the savings to mail it (or an equivalent bike) here from the U.S. And at the time I winced at the price tag.

But, very few shops in the U.S. provide the kind of after sale care that I've gotten here. The shop is called Jitensha Pop (jitensha = bicycle), or J-Pop for short. They're located in Nakanoshima, one stop away from Noborito. It's a small place with a variety of bikes crammed into two small floors, with some mama charis and a number of upscale mountain and road bikes, plus equipment and parts. The staff are all in their 20's or 30's, and they love bikes. All of them have grease permanently embedded under their nails. Whenever I go there, they're in the middle of building a bike for someone, or repairing one.

Several times, I've gone in to have my bike looked at prior to starting on a long ride, and they've happily reinflated the tires to the proper pressure, re-lubed the cables and gears, wiped extra lube and dirt off the chain, and even replaced one brake cable that had gotten a little stretched. All for free.

Once, I lost my kryptonite lock off the back of the bike and J-Pop gave me a free loaner lock for 1 week to keep me protected until a replacement kryptonite could be special ordered.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out riding along the Tamagawa, and the weather was acting strange - dark clouds and heavy winds, but the riding was pretty good. When I got to the end of the trail and turned around, I found that I'd been just a few hundred feet ahead of a heavy rainstorm for the last half hour. 15 seconds later, I was drenched to the bone and I had to ride in that storm all the way back. The next week, I went in to have the tire pressure checked again and when I mentioned the story, the staff did laugh, but they also started spraying lube and de-ruster really carefully all over the bike to catch any possible corrosion, and told me to bring the bike back in right away the next time I got caught in the rain. Again, all of this after care was free.

Naturally, J-Pop is my store of choice when I need to replace the tires (that will cost me money - about $30 per tire, plus the cost of the inner tube if needed) - buy a new water bottle, or add an odometer (I did that 2 weeks ago). So, the after care just makes good business sense for ensuring repeat customers. But, if I'd bought the bike in the U.S., I'd have long ago spent the savings on having the shop do cleaning and tune-ups, and it would have been more expensive in the long run.

My point is that yes, living in Tokyo can be expensive, but the service and treatment you can get here from the store staff often makes up for it. You don't see this kind of special service in the U.S. any more.


bartman905 said...

I completely agree with you. I think Japan is probably the best in terms of customer service in the world.

Also, I think quality is also excellent in Japan. Not only is the quality very high, but quite consistent.

So although it is more expensive, both quality and service is excellent in Japan.

Bunny said...

They would be horrified at my bike, it's a 20 year old rust covered raleigh. It's so bad that I don't need a lock, it viciously rusts at people! Although I usually lock it to something, say to prevent that poor harmless rust free fence from being liberated by stainless steel thieves (they do exist, they make those posts to stop motorbike parking disappear!)

TSOTE said...

bartman905 -
I was talking to a student a little while ago about the kind of company he works for. He was saying that they're an equipment manufacturer, and they have the best reputation in the market for service, reliability and performance. But, they're also the most expensive providers and therefore can't break into the western markets. It looks like Japanese companies are learning that Americans, at least, favor initial cost well over quality and service.

Bunny -
Heh, "I rust at you and call your steel thievery a silly thing, you Arthur king and your k-nig-its."