Japan’s most popular wholesaler of secondhand comics, cosplay, videogames and animation goods, struggled to expand globally as retail outlets in California, Italy France and China, opened and closed over the past decade after failing to attract enough customers.
“The stores simply cost too much money,” said 60-year-old Masuzou Furukawa, founder of Mandarake. “Shipping and storage costs of the used products and local taxes were too high.”
Enter the Internet. As of September 30, 2010, Mandarake’s total sales revenue was roughly 8.11 billion yen ($100.69 million as of July 9, 2011), up from 1.4 billion yen in 1995: a fivefold increase in sales revenue. Total income rose to 453.32 million yen ($5.62 million) in 2010 and it posted a 250.58 million yen ($3.11 million) operating profit. Ten percent of Mandarake’s total revenue came from internet sales last year, although 95 percent of total sales revenue still derived from the domestic market.
Mandarake operates a trilingual (Japanese, Korean and English) website that takes otaku odds and ends overseas. Customers can buy or bid online for original manga or anime goods, settling accounts by credit card or PayPal. Purchases are mailed to locations around the globe. The wholesaler aims to boost sales outside of Japan to ride the wave of popularity anime, manga and other aspects of the otaku culture gaining an ever-firmer foothold overseas.
Mandarake’s increasingly successful moves into foreign markets – albeit while remaining firmly stay-at-home – are a far cry from its humble beginnings back in the ‘80s when Furukawa sold hand drawn pictures, books, original manga and anime in a tiny store at the retro arcade of Nakano Broadway in Tokyo’s Shinjuku-ku.
But works by artists from Japan’s golden age of manga — Osamu Tezuka, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Shigeru Mizuki, Shotaro Ishimori among them — helped swell the store to its current status occupying the better part of three floors in Nakano Broadway, attracting numerous like-minded businesses and turning the building into an icon of the otaku ethos.
Furukawa will be hoping that Mandarake’s tentative steps into the infinite world of cyberspace will prove similarly fruitful and spread the otaku way of life as limitlessly as the marketplace growing increasingly important for it.