IBD Suritex

Written by Gloria Gerngross,  Sophia Kaady, Deepak Nainani, Isei Nakae, and Lyndsey Wilson

The sun was setting on the rural landscape, the grassy highlands of rural Peru, as Gregor’s truck bounced over unpaved, rocky roads, all five of our team members squished into the backseat as he sped to the new textile workshop before night fell. We had spent the day in a bus from Lima, winding our way through the Cordillera mountain range for 8 hours and ascending 14,000 feet to Huancayo, where our client was waiting to introduce us to the women who worked in the textile workshop, and the alpaca breeders who lived in the highlands.Suritex-group

We arrived at the construction site with just 20 minutes to spare before the horizon was swallowed by the darkness. Gregor’s eyes lit up as he waved his hands, pointing at empty space above the large foundation as though showing his blueprint for the new plant. Where we saw exposed rebar and hand-laid concrete bricks, he saw a room for the women’s children to play, a resting area for alpaqueros that came to have their fibers weighed, graded, and dyed, and a weaving room four times the size of their current plant’s. We left inspired by Gregor’s vision for growing his small social enterprise and energized to use our business skills to enable this dream to become a reality.

Suritex 2 AlpacasThe Project

Our team was hired by NESsT, an Oakland-based impact investing firm, to help its portfolio company, Suritex, increase its revenues by expanding sales of alpaca-blend textiles into the U.S. market. Though Suritex prides itself on its high-quality products created through technically sophisticated dying, weaving, and fiber-blending methods, it is their impact on the rural Lima region that is truly incredible. Suritex pays above-market prices for alpaca fibers, ensuring continued livelihoods of agricultural communities. They hire and train single women to operate machinery and manufacture textiles, creating jobs in communities struggling to develop economically. Our team met several women who worked in their factory, and their young children played while they fed colorful yarn into the large looming machines.Suritex loom.jpg

Prior to arriving in Lima, our team focused on understanding the U.S. alpaca-based goods market, sales channels, and our client’s capabilities to create designs and products that U.S. customers would be excited to buy. However, the disparate nature of the imported alpaca-based goods (textiles, clothing, and yarn) market made it difficult to collect any quantitative data, so our team relied on information collected by visiting local stores, and interviewing sales partners and customers.

This preliminary research led us to conclude that our client needed a re-brand, targeted marketing towards high-income, socially conscious customer segments, and to emphasize their strong social and environmental impact to differentiate themselves among hundreds of textile importers. We were excited to meet the client, visit the processing facilities, and better understand how we could make Suritex stand out among competitive exporters of similar products.

Suritex - loom 2The Focus Changes

Once in-country, we learned more about Suritex’s technically sophisticated and uniquely socially-conscious supply chain. Our meetings with the textile mill workers and the alpaqueros confirmed the importance of scaling Suritex’s efforts, and inspired and energized us to develop a sales and marketing strategy so that U.S. customers understand the impact that their Suritex purchase will have on the community.Suritex working.jpg

It came as a surprise to our team to learn that our client had already hired a marketing consulting team, so we were no longer needed in the proposed re-brand!  While our team had initially focused on creating branding and marketing strategy that would enable Suritex to successfully enter the US market, we had to do a 180° pivot and reframe our project. When our focus had to change, we spent hours whiteboarding and reframing the problem, ultimately pivoting to more of a sales and product strategy. Our focus turned then on researching the logistics of how to actually sell products in the US: who to sell to, how to sell them, and which products to sell.

Suritex thread.jpgThe Final Presentation

Our final presentation provided Suritex with tactical recommendations on how to begin selling products in the US, and how to modify their current product offerings to ensure U.S. customer interest in their products. We provided a thorough go-to-market guidebook that included sales on online platforms (such as Etsy or Amazon), hiring a fulfillment center and sales reps to manage buyer relationships, and which certifications and trade shows to pursue to access the right B2B customers. Our client, a technical and operations-focused career manufacturer, was very happy with the detailed recommendations. Our team left energized by the important work of Suritex, driven by the knowledge that our recommendations would enable Suritex to reach its goal of building more manufacturing facilities closer to workers’ communities, hiring and educating more workers, and ultimately developing these rural economies to support the sustainability of this artisan trade.Suritex finished product

Team IBD Japan Takes on a Timely Issue: Media and the US Market

Tokyo, city of 20 million people

Written by Federico Alvarez Del Blanco, Diego Butrich, Kim Long, Angela Napit, and Kasey Koopmans

The US media is having a moment. According to Donald Trump’s twitter account, “the media is the enemy of the American people.” Counter to his bold-faced claim, a recent AEI report found that the majority of registered voters do *not* think the industry is their enemy. That being said, confidence in the news is eroding and has been for many years in the US.  While conducting our own interviews, we found again and again that people are worried about bias and hungry for news sources from outside the American echo chamber, especially after the most recent election.  

Media drama isn’t confined to the US. The industry at large is in the midst of an identity crisis. Today’s digital advancements mean that anyone can be a journalist and anyone can share information freely on the web. Free news sites and aggregators have made the new generation believe that news should be free and have made the future of paywalls and ad-based models far from certain.

Tokyo subway transit: In both cases, silence was king.

Tokyo subway transit: In both cases, silence was king.

Enter Nikkei Asian Review

Tokyo subway transit: In both cases, silence was king.

It is against this tumultuous backdrop that our team partnered with Nikkei Asian Review (NAR). NAR is a subsidiary of Nikkei, a company that has been around for nearly 150 years and circulates the most read widely business newspaper in Japan. In 2013, NAR was launched as Nikkei’s new English language product – a weekly magazine and online news source specializing in in-depth, Pan-Asian coverage of business and financial news. In order to bolster its international brand, Nikkei also made the bold move to purchase the Financial Times in 2015. All of these elements (Nikkei heritage, FT expertise moving in-house, increasing need trustworthy news) put NAR in a promising position. Our project was to help NAR tap into one of the most lucrative English-speaking markets and explore their potential in the US. How should NAR position itself in the US? Who is their target audience? And how will NAR connect with and market to that audience?

The team (with client lead, Asuka), the office, and the imperial palace (behind)

“Tell me about the last time you read the news”

Since our project was focused on strategy for the US market, the bulk of our field work was based out of our Berkeley home. The first mission was to capture as much information as we could about competitors and their marketing strategy in the US (screen shots on screenshots!). The second mission was to conduct in-depth interviews. Our 30+ completed interviews focused on 1) gathering expert opinions from journalism professors and professionals and 2) consumer news reading habits from target respondents.  Armed with a more refined understanding of the media industry, its challenges, as well as its readers and their evolving needs, we hopped on our 19-hour flight to Tokyo.

The team that dines together, thrives together: 1st lunch with NAR team in Tokyo

Konnichi wa, Tokyo!

A few days after our final exams, Team IBD landed in Japan. Our first observation: for a city of 20 million people, it is remarkably quiet, clean and orderly. Even the public transport smelt of perfume (BART isn’t hard to beat)!  In our Day of Arrival presentation, we shared our preliminary findings and laid out the work for the weeks ahead. What struck us most that first day, was how invested the entire company was in supporting us.

Team IBD Japan with a few visiting Haasies at the Shibuya “scramble”

Designing a strategy

Over the first week, NAR put their project commitment into action. Our calendars were filled with meetings, ranging from representatives from the editorial and marketing teams to the Financial Times. With each meeting, we zeroed in closer on where NAR stood and what they could leverage in approaching a new market.

Combining what we had learned in-country with our in market research, we presented a detailed overview of NAR’s competitors and how they stacked up against NAR along various dimensions at the end of the first week. During the second week, we focused our efforts on defining the target reader.  Based on our consumer interviews and the powers of post-it collaboration, our team refined 3 key personas we recommended NAR to target.  

Teammates Angel, Diego and Kim brainstorming tactics (note bag of Kitkats, a key ingredient to team success)

Grand finale

Coming into the final week, we finally brought all the pieces together and constructed our recommendations. Our final presentation took place on our final day in the office. It was widely attended by ~45 people, including the editor in chief and other senior leaders. We were thrilled to receive their earnest engagement in our final discussion. They promised that when we visit NAR in a year’s time, it will look like a whole new organization.

IBD Japan – Flash Mob (public stretching)

When we gathered for a team drink post-presentation, we all agreed: best IBD project ever (note: unadulterated bias). When not absorbed with the fascinating problem we were helping solve, Japan showed us a helluva good time. From wondrous meal after wondrous meal to kabuki theater to strikingly beautiful temples and shrines, Japan’s charms wouldn’t quit. We all spent the three weeks with anime-inspired stars in our eyes. Amidst all the adventures, the highlight for us all was the karaoke. We did it all for the karaoke.