[Okinawa Start-up Entrepreneur Story] Vincent’s Bike Shop Okinawa
[Okinawa Start-up Entrepreneur Story]
Vol.2 Vincent Thomson – Vincent’s Bike Shop Okinawa
Vincent Thomson shares us his experience in opening his own business in Okinawa and his passion.
The First Pedal – Passion on Bicycle and Salvaging
Q. Can you explain why you wanted to start a business? It’s kind of a long story. But I’ve always been independent. And I’ve always been interested in salvage. So this particular business was a combination of my work history, which is working in salvaging buildings mostly. And my interest in bicycles that started when I did a bicycle trip in America, that was pretty far and then also coming out here and working, like volunteering to work on the bases at places that rented bikes. So, you kind of combine the two ideas together into this business idea.
Q. When did you started to think about starting the business?
I’ve always wanted to have a business. When I first started to work, I kind of started working for myself because I lived in a small town and the choices were pretty slim, so anyone who wants to get ahead, wants to kind of grow their life has to start a business. And most of what I did was just repairing, you know, working on houses and fixing small things at people’s houses like handyman. So, I’d say when I was about 18, I started working. I’ve always had the idea of starting my own business.
Starting Business in Okinawa
Q. why did you choose to do business in here Okinawa?
The main reason is because I was getting out of the military and I could either choose to work for someone else, or it could work for myself. And I was very passionate about bicycles at that time. So, I took a chance and I wanted to try and see if I could start a bicycle shop. (Also marriage?) Yeah, it is very important. My wife played a really important role. When I got out of the military, I got married my girlfriend at the time, and she was really supportive and helpful in starting the business. In Japan, it is difficult to start business as a foreigner. However, with her help, I was able to register the business and do all the paperwork to get this going.
Q. What kind of problem did you face when you start the business here in Okinawa?
There were several problems. One was finding a good location. If you know what kind of business you want to do, it’s hard to find a place to do it. And the language barrier is really big because it’s difficult to learn how to read and write Japanese fluently, even if you learn how to speak it fluently. So, a lot of the companies and the suppliers that I work with require someone who speaks and writes fluently in order to have an account and my wife has to help me with that. Those are always difficult and maybe probably impossible if my wife wasn’t helping me.
Growing The Business
Q. Could you explain your experience from beginning of your business to growing your business?
Well, the first process is to have a really good group of friends and support network. And of course, you (our staff) have been very helpful too. I think you helped me register the business. (Oh, yeah, we went to the office together.) Yeah, yeah, that was the first step actually. My wife didn’t even know what to do at that time. And because you helped me with that, I was able to figure out the rest of the steps. So having somebody who already has a business here could can sort of mentor. Those supporters plays probably the most important part because that sets you in the right direction. After that, you have to keep talking to people who have businesses and who know the laws, so they can tell you what to do next. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know. You might be selling something and realize, you know, when it’s too late that you needed a license or such. So having a strong network of friends who are supportive and also know how to do the kind of business that you want to do is really important. I would say that’s the most important and the biggest step, apart from obvious things like having money saved and knowing how to succeed in that particular business. (Yeah, I also remember that. I think we talked about getting the license of selling the used stuff.) Yeah, you helped me with the first step and that was the most important for sure.
Advices for Those Who Wants to Start Own Business in Okinawa
Q. Is there any advice for foreigners who wants to start a business in Okinawa?
I would say that persistence is probably the most important thing. It’s really general advice, but if you keep working towards a goal, you’ll eventually reach it. So the most discouraging thing for starting the business has been the paperwork, how complicated the legalities are. I would say, if someone comes into the Startup Lab Lagoon asking for help, then just keep coming back until they achieve what they’re going to achieve, and then be persistent. Like when they leave with a list of things to do to be persistent and achieving that, so that they come back prepared for the next visit. And that persistence is the only way to get through at all. But also, I couldn’t have even succeeded, being persistent if I didn’t have a good support network. So, you know you’ve been really helpful and my wife has been really helpful. And even if I was persistent, without that help, I wouldn’t have been able to succeed in anything very well. So, I would say persistence and a strong knowledgeable network of support is the most important two things.
Q. What kind of advice would you give to yourself four years ago?
I took a lot of risks I had. I had reasons to believe I would fail. But I did it anyway. And I’m really glad I did. So I wouldn’t have changed anything. And you have to take risks to succeed as long as you’re determined and you know what you’re doing. Only you can really know what you’re doing. I mean, it’s up to you to decide if the risks are worth taking. But if you really want to do something, and you’re confident that you can achieve it, as long as you’re persistent, then take the risks. And it depends on the person, but that’s what I would tell myself, because I knew I could. And I’m really glad that I took the risk. But I mean, I would be careful telling that to some people who might take too many risks. But for me, personally, that’s what I would say to encourage myself to just do what I was planning to do anyway. Just push forward because you will achieve if you keep being persistent eventually.
The Last Big Question – Next Step
Q. What’s your next goal? What would you see in your next four years?
My goal has always been to be successful and stable. I want to build something solid that lasts. And I would keep adding and keep adding value to my product. So my product in next four years will hopefully not changed. It’ll look the same, but it will just keep getting better, slowly getting better. That’s my goal. Four years from now, I hope to have people working for me that do some of the time consuming things that I do, so that I can keep adding features to my product. And I can keep adding, keep expanding my market. For example, my product, even though I sell bicycles, I found that I can open up my own niche market by selling the service that surrounds that product and perfecting it. Perfecting the service, and just including the product that really opens up the market. That’s hard to reproduce, it’s hard to compete with, as opposed to just selling bikes and the services, so personality driven that there’s really no risk of someone competing with me. And that’s what I would expand as the service. I would just keep adding to the service so that the bike I sell becomes even more valuable and more unique.
Vincent’s Bike Shop Okinawa
Our Local Business Start-up Support Program
Start up Lab Lagoon provides a start-up support program for those who wish to start a business in Okinawa. Please consult with us to figure out steps to open up your business, and we will support you through the process. If you are interested, please feel free to contact us at info[at]lagoon-koza.com