An Interview with Japanese Business Owner, Ritsuko Tominaga
Ritsuko Tominaga has one of the most fascinating life histories that I have ever heard. A sole proprietor and business consultant with 4 employees at Re-mix Co., Ritsuko is a middleman or middlewoman who creates unique and innovative OEM goods, or Original Equipment Manufacturer.
This entails meeting with clients such as department stores, to deeply understand their goals and stated desires, before meeting with an appropriate manufacturer to explain the clients' goals. With her unique background of working at her grandfather's sweets factory — Olympia Confectionary — from a young age, Ritsuko knows what is and isn't possible to manufacture.
10 Captivating Facts About Ritsuko
Now, let's get started.
1. An Entrepreneurial Role Model — Ritsuko's Grandfather
One of Ritsuko's most important role models, is her grandfather. Coming from abject poverty, he became a successful businessman in the world of chocolates and sweets.
After his family's business declared bankruptcy, Ritsuko's grandfather was unable to finish elementary school. For more job opportunities, he decided to move to a bigger city. And by fabricating his age, he was able to secure a job at a Western Confectionary Store.
There, he not only learned the trade and how to be a salesman, but he also learned what customers did not want. For example, they did not want to get sick.
In post-war Japan, Japanese people were now quickly being introduced to Western-style goods and services. Unlike traditional Japanese sweets that did not have to be refrigerated, Western confectionaries did. Because the Western-style goods used heavy cream and dairy, they would quickly spoil if left out.
However, Japanese people preferred to hold on to these expensive desserts for as long as possible. And when they finally did eat them, the customers would inevitably get sick. Thus, it was Ritsuko's grandfathers job to home visit every aggravated customer, to profusely apologize on behalf of the company. Based on this experience, he knew that he did not want to serve anything fresh.
After working at the Western Confectionary Store, he decided to start his own chocolate factory, serving only fresh desserts. Soon thereafter, he even launched a cafe that was connected to the factory. Through his hard work, Ritsuko's grandfather launched a successful company.
While there many trials and tribulations along the way, such as near bankruptcy, her grandfather always landed on his feet.
Practically since the day she was born, Ritsuko has been visiting her grandfather's factory to help make chocolates. Soon, she fell in love with watching the moving factory line. Through osmosis and her innate curiosity, Ritsuko soaked in everything that she could learn and quickly became adept at understanding the needs and desires of manufacturers — knowledge that became extremely valuable in the future.
2. No TV, Yet Ritsuko's Family had 3 Pianos
When Ritsuko was growing up, there was no TV in the house. The only time the family was able to watch TV was on New Years. Similarly, when I was 6-months-old, my mom threw the TV away, because my father and I were watching it too much!
Both of us had mild Asian Tiger Mothers — or an educationally-focused mother, who spends all her time making sure her child is successful.
For example, Ritsuko had to practice piano for 3 hours per day, except on weekends. That's when she had to practice around 7 hours a day. Similarly, I had extracurricular classes scheduled everyday after school. And on Saturdays, I attended both Japanese school to learn my mother's tongue, and abacus classes to learn how to calculate numbers in my head quickly.
While it may have been challenging for both of us at times, we were fortunate to have loving parents who cared enough to make sure we were successful in life.
3. A Musically-Gifted Family
Ritsuko's entire family is musically-talented.
Not only were her mother and aunt piano teachers, but her sister moved to Italy to pursue her dream of becoming a world-class singer. Now, Ritsuko's sister has been living in Italy for more than 25 years, and has been working as a Vatican vocal teacher for over 10 years at the Sistine Chapel. It's no wonder that the family had 3 pianos in the home.
Regardless of one's specific ability, Ritsuko wholeheartedly believes that each individual has a unique talent. And so do I.
4. Played the Guitar & Rocked the Keyboard in Her Electric Rock Band
Classically trained as a vocal singer and pianist, Ritsuko embraced a new adventure in high school, with the start of her electronic rock band. Whereas she felt too much pressure and stress from her family in the traditional fields of music, Ritsuko had ultimate freedom when she played the guitar and rocked the keyboard with her rock band. A thrilling departure from her normal routine, Ritsuko quickly fell in love with music again.
5. Designed Clothing for Barbie Dolls & Her Rock Band
With many creative talents in her fingertips, Ritsuko designed clothing for both her barbie dolls and her rock band. Because she didn't like clothing that came with her beloved dolls, Ritsuko decided to create stylish and fashionable clothing when she was in elementary school.
This artistic endeavor continued into high school, as she had no required uniform, and wanted to make chic clothing for her rock band. Even in college, Ritsuko continued to design her own clothes.
6. Earned Thousands More Than her Peers by Breaking Through Her Limitations
While studying piano and classical vocal music in college, Ritsuko began teaching on the side to earn her financial freedom and independence. At 21, before graduating from college, Ritsuko was already making ¥70,000 yen per month, or $630 USD per month.
Due to her willingness to teach students that no one else wanted, work during the wee hours of the morning, while other teachers were sleeping, and her deep desire to earn financial independence, Ritsuko was a resounding success. Fortunately for her, she was constantly underestimated by her peer group and even family, providing her with ample opportunity to surpass everyone's expectations.
At the age of 25, Ritsuko decided to take on a new challenge — learning how to play, and eventually teach, electronic music. By enhancing her skills and expanding her repertoire, she knew that she would stay ahead of the game. And simultaneously, generate more income.
Ritsuko knew that she would quickly fall behind her peers and lose her legendary position as a スーパー先生, or “Super Teacher,” if she did not constantly improve her skills. At the time, she was already teaching piano to over 60 private students in 4 days, or around 15 students per day.
In yet another example, Ritsuko went against conventional customs by creating samples to demonstrate potential products to clients. By doing so, she was not only the first salesperson to do so in the company, but Ritsuko also earned the top salesperson position, month after month.
By breaking through her limitations, Ritsuko continually embraced new challenges to further develop her skills, expand her repertoire, and grow.
7. A Personal Breakthrough After 17 Days of Hospitalization
After teaching for awhile, Ritsuko decided to switch careers, and become a salesperson for her father's company. Unfortunately, due to multiple family obstacles, Ritsuko was fired from her sales job at the age of 36, soon after being admitted to the hospital.
Fortunately, this gave her ample time to think. And in 17 days of hospitalization, she achieved a personal breakthrough — no matter what, she would not give up! With a mindset of never giving up and embracing new challenges, Ritsuko transitioned her career 3 times.
1st Career: Piano Teacher for ~14 Years
2nd Career: Salesperson for ~3 Years
3rd Career: Entrepreneur for ~15 Years
Due to a confluence of factors such as: a desire for new career challenges, 17 days of hospitalization, and being fired by her father, Ritsuko founded Re-mix Co. in 2002. Plus, it was extremely difficult for a Japanese woman with a diverse background in piano and sales to get hired by a typical Japanese company.
Over the course of a few years, Ritsuko had been formulating more in-depth ideas on what she wanted to create based on her interactions with clients. And finally, she was given the opportunity to start her own company at the right time.
8. The Beginnings of a #BossLady
By leveraging her savings accumulated over the past ~17 years, Ritsuko was able to launch Re-mix Co. without any outside funding. And even with tumultuous family circumstances, Ritsuko was extremely confident in the fact that she had a high-earning potential. After all, she had already excelled in two very different career paths.
That being said, she did have to muster every ounce of her courage to launch her business, gradually earn the trust of clients, and secure a steady flow of income. Plus, she had an ambitious goal — Ritsuko sought to earn over ¥100 million yen in her first year, or $910,500 in sales. In fact, she far surpassed her goal, making over ¥60 million yen, or $546,480 in that first year of business. And in her second year, she made over $1 million USD.
9. The Unique Selling Points of Re-mix Co.
Ritsuko works very hard to offer unique selling points to her clients at Re-mix Co., some of which are outlined below.
A. Maintains the Company's Brand: Ritsuko fundamentally believes that maintaining the company's brand is of utmost importance, so she retains and emphasizes it in the design.
B. Designs the Entire Product (Interior & Exterior) + Sales Advice: Not only does Ritsuko design both the interior and exterior packaging, but she also offers sales advice for post-development.
C. Essentially Eliminates Miscommunication & Reduces Stress Between Clients & Manufacturing Facilities: One of her main strengths is understanding both the restraints of manufacturing companies, and the goals, stated and unstated desires, and budgetary restrictions of clients. By communicating the relevant information to each party, she reduces the possibility of miscommunication and stress.
D. Reimagines Original Designs to Create an Innovative Product: Always seeking to improve her previous designs, Ritsuko works hard to reimagine the design of typical sweets products, while respecting her clients' wishes.
E. When Designing, Ritsuko Images the Client's Enormous Smile: One of the most impressive selling points for her business, is her outstanding perspective on designing with the image of a gigantic smile on her customer's face.
With more than 6 unique selling points, its no wonder that Ritsuko has established a prospering business with 4 employees and over 20 clients.
10. Innovative Musical Partnership with Osaka University's Dental School
Coincidentally, her brother is a dentist who graduated from Osaka University. Working together with Ritsuko, the siblings developed playful songs to help children born with cleft palates, people who have suffered from strokes, etc. pronounce words properly. In the near future, an oral surgeon will also join the pair.
It's the perfect idea for Japan. Not only is Japan a culture that adores songs and singing, but it is also a fun way to practice proper pronunciation.
A global jet-setter with a passion for exploring and discovering new things, Ritsuko plans on accomplishing the following things:
1. Desire to Create a Product for Curvaceous Women in Japan
Now 52, Ritsuko plans to work until she's 80, or can no longer walk. And while she will continue her current business into the indefinite future, she has also considered starting other businesses such as creating a unique product to help make full-figured, voluptuous women in Japan feel good about their bodies. If not this business, she will do something equally interesting!
2. Meeting & Traveling Extensively with a Life Partner
Since Ritsuko has never been married, she hopes to find a life partner with whom she can travel extensively. Thus far, she has been to more than 30 countries and over 90 cities. But, she's eager to continue exploring and learning more about what the world has to offer.
Advice for Future Founders
1. It's Never Too Late.
It's never too late to embark on a brand new career, visit a new country, take on a new challenge, partake in a new experience, etc. At 36, Ritsuko launched her company. And she will never stop challenging herself, most likely working until she is 80 or older.
2. With a Can Do Attitude, You Can Make Anything Happen!
While Ritsuko felt like she knew nothing about the business world initially, she did not let that feeling overtake her. Instead, Ritsuko focused on acquiring the essential information at every stage of building the business, such as effective negotiation strategies, and much more. With her “I can do it no matter what” attitude, Ritsuko made — what some would consider — the impossible, possible!
3. Seek Out New Experiences!
To lead a dynamic life, it's critical to seek out new experiences. In Ritsuko's opinion, the more experiences you have, the better. By constantly trying new things, she not only expanded her range of options, but she also discovered new perspectives.
While on countless journeys to new cities and countries, Ritsuko always discovers something original — something that she has never seen before, in that combination, for that purpose, with those groups of people, etc. And since Ritsuko believes that every experience in life is inter-connected, no experience has ever been a waste. In fact, it has only served to enhance the value she has brought to the table.
4. Join a Network to Meet Role Models
By joining a network of like-minded individuals such as the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) Network, both current and future founders can build an indispensable network of advisors, role models, and encouraging colleagues. Since founders are their own boss, and don't necessarily have the benefit of interacting with similarly-minded people on a daily basis, it's critical to join a network that fosters this supportive type of environment.
Through this particular network, Ritsuko has received both conspicuous and inconspicuous benefits, as she has been able to travel around the world to speak at conferences, has met incredible mentors and role models, and has helped mentor future entrepreneurs with the organization's Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.
Networking organizations are the perfect way to get and stay motivated on the long, arduous, yet attainable journey of entrepreneurship.
Thank you very much for reading this article! Enjoy other articles with female founders in a variety of industries.
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