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The big guy at Gulliver

Jack G. Beasley speaks to Hatori Kenichi, founder of Gulliver International, on what makes his company a giant among car dealers in Japan

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Photo Courtesy of Gulliver International Gulliver founder Hatori Kenichi Photo by Minako Ochii

Have you noticed, as you drive around the outskirts of Tokyo, those big yellow and green signs pointing to your nearest Gulliver shop? In the last few months Gulliver has been popping up all over the place. The company has grown in leaps and bounds since it was founded in 1994 and is setting new standards in the used car industry across Japan and worldwide.

Back in 1994, Hatori Kenichi started Gulliver International as a company which bought used cars and then sold them at car auctions across Japan. With 70 million registered cars in Japan, these auctions move a substantial amount of vehicles each day. As Mr. Hatori's idea took off, people came to him directly and asked if they could buy these cars before they actually reached auction, giving Mr. Hatori one more idea.

"I started a new branch of Gulliver International called Dolphinet," he said. "Dolphinet handles the used car sales prior to going to auction by using a computer and satellite system. You can come into any of our Dolphinet outlets and check on a computer any type of car that you wish. Then, because of our 100 point system, you will receive an accurate condition report and price for that car."

Gulliver's 100 point system for evaluating used cars is the only one like it in the world. When I asked Mr. Hatori about the system, he said, "We have developed a system that is much better for evaluating the condition of used cars than the standard five point system used throughout the country. This system gives the buyer a good and fair status report on the car he wishes to buy." The system works so well that Gulliver is trying to make it the standard in the used car business in Japan, and they have high hopes that it will be adopted worldwide some day.

Foreigner friendly

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Gulliver, inside

Gulliver International has, for the benefit of its English-speaking customers, put up an Internet homepage in English (english.dolphinet.ne.jp) where you can buy and sell your car just as if you went into one of their Dolphinet offices or stopped by a Dolphinet shop.

Knowing that foreign customers constitute such a minute percentage of the Japanese car market, I was curious as to why Gulliver International went to all the trouble of putting up its Dolphinet pages in English as well as Japanese. Mr. Hatori's answer was impressive. "When I travel overseas I have always found it extremely hard to find anything in Japanese and have always experienced problems. Therefore, I wanted to give my customers every opportunity to have a good experience with my company. After all, we use the word einternational' in our name and I want it to be just that." To me, this is a good example for other companies to follow, just not in Japan but all over the world.

As of October 1999, Gulliver International had 522 franchises in Japan and this number is rising every week. "It's an easy system to work as the dealer does not have to know much about making an estimate," said Mr. Hatori. "They have a standard form that is made up using our 100 point system to fill out, then they fax this form to our main offices in Shinurayasu. Our experts take it from there." Things like damage to the outside and inside of the car, as well as standard wear and tear are checked, then a price is faxed back to the dealer in just a few minutes.

A family affair

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Gulliver, outside

The proof of Mr. Hatori's success is the 200% growth rate achieved by Gulliver and Dolphinet since their conception, and the future seems assured with Mr. Hatori at the helm, with the full support of his dedicated staff.

Professionalism and diligence are qualities Mr. Hatori exudes and which seem to be part of the ethos of his company. He is a keen scuba diver and never misses the chance to go diving when time allows. He also likes to jog to keep in shape and does a circuit around Tokyo Disneyland twice a week - his favorite place to run. "I feel that the sea breeze in Shinurayasu is good for one's health" he says. At work, he sounds like the ideal boss, and he certainly keeps a finger on the heartbeat of his company. "He's seldom at his desk," said one employee. "He's always walking around the offices in our building, talking to and helping his employees." Mr. Hatori is not just the company's founder - he's as much a part of what's going on at all levels as anyone else, and always invited on company outings. "It's not interesting if Mr. Hatori can't attend our outings," said one employee, "and we don't have much fun without him there."

Where and when will it all end? All I know is that with those 70 million registered cars on our streets, with more on the way, Mr. Hatori and his excellent staff at Gulliver International have their work cut out.

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