Endo / suginoshita
Even squids want to be designed (Part 2)
An unexpected entry was included in the 2023 GOOD DESIGN GOLD AWARD. It was Endo’s Gesoten squid leg tempura. Community-based stores are disappearing with the emergence of large supermarkets and mass retailers. Endo, a local store in Yamagata, once struggled under such circumstances. The reason why it survived is the combination of design and local soul food Gesoten. The food has become popular, attracting people even from other prefectures. A client and creators work together to develop and expand innovation. We are getting closer to the secret. (Part 1)
For some reason, the design was the only thing that caught his eye
— It is difficult for local supermarkets to introduce design. They cannot take that first step. When Mr. Hidenori Endo, the store owner of Endo, chose a designer, the project got rolling.
You said you chose a designer when you saw a shop card. What was the deciding factor?
Hidenori Endo (Endo store owner) I remember it was a unique shop card. It was a card for a flower shop. Four katakana letters on the card represent a Chinese character meaning flower. I thought they would make an interesting design.
— You were interested in it, which might mean the direction of the client and designer was the same.
Endo There were many other shop cards and flyers, but that was the only one that caught my eye. It was not a loud eye-catching color, but it leaped out at me for some reason.
I think it was a unique and appealing design. I was unsure, but we might have good chemistry. It was a nice encounter.
Endo But I know nothing about design. So, I’m not sure how to answer. I don't know how to explain it.
— I would like to know the secret of working with designers even if you don't know about design.
Endo My job is to make delicious food. That is what I can do. First of all, I have to make delicious food. So, other than that, I leave everything to the two of them (Suginoshita). If I receive a proposal and decide to implement it, they will bring the final version. I count on them.
Can customers enjoy it?
Endo The final call is mine, but I don't know about design. It was a gamble at first. At that time, I decided only on the basis of whether customers would come back and whether they would enjoy it.
Satoshi Suzuki (Suginoshita llc.) Mr. Endo, I wish you’d only think about the store.
Endo Yes, I do. If I dabbled in design, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Even now, I have my hands full with menu development. So, I leave the designing to them. I trust them.
— It may be good to believe what you feel and your intuition like when you encountered the work by Sughinoshita.
Endo You may be right. In a visceral way, I feel it will work. This is the same as buying fish. If I feel this will sell, it will. I cannot provide advice (laughs).
Following what you feel is also the right path for you. Choose a realistic direction. Otherwise, it won't last long.
If it doesn't sell, they will continue until it sells.
Suzuki But Mr. Endo, you must have been overwhelmed.
Endo I've never done such things before. So, I pushed myself.
Suzuki We tried to use Gesoten as a catalyst. It was a supermarket but sometimes looked like a Gesoten restaurant. But Mr. Endo didn’t care. I felt he was ready for anything. I understand that it was a gamble as Mr. Endo said. I think he tried his luck.
Endo I tried my luck there. Even in our daily work, we have a creed that we basically continue until it sells. If it doesn't sell, I keep thinking about why it doesn't sell.
I always improve. Even now, I’ve got a proposal from Suginoshita but have not done it yet. Basically, I have to make food. Intuition is important, but it's also important to think carefully about what to make.
— Your strength is that you have good intuition and carefully think about details at the same time. When it comes to product development, uncompromising and thorough research is also the driving force behind the Endo’s popularity.
Endo I always do research. Even now, I think a lot about how to make Gesoten more delicious.
A job that children are proud of
— Unseen efforts have resulted in sales growth. The store was almost going out of business, but now it is popular.
Endo Sales have been good. Mr. Suzuki lives nearby. I'm happy that his wife and children often come to the store. The store has a welcoming atmosphere for children. They come to eat. They are outspoken. I appreciate their opinions.
Suzuki My children even said that they were ashamed of my job with Endo when it was on the verge of going out of business. But now they are bragging about it.
— They made Gesoten the centerpiece of Endo. As a result, it has become a place where people gather unlike usual supermarkets. In addition to an eat-in space, lots of fun ideas are coming to fruition, such as standing and drinking events, take-out alcohol with food “Takunomi,” catalog order delivery, and the development of Geso IPA beer to go with Gesoten.
Tsukasa Koseki (Suginoshita) When the number of drinking customers decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought it would be a good idea to offer a set of delicious food and alcohol. We call this “Takunomi.”
Suzuki We enjoy drinking. We thought our customers would be happy. Food and snacks are chosen from other than Gesoten and horsemeat sashimi. The food and snacks are sold with alcohol. Well, it sold well. It still sells well. Around the same time, we started a home delivery service and created a catalog. It is published twice a year.
They’re very serious, but anything goes.
Endo Following Gesoten, they suggested sujiko. Sujiko is salmon roe covered with the ovarian membrane preserved in salt or soy sauce. It is more immature than salmon roe. The salted sujiko is distributed only in the Tohoku (northeast) region in Japan. Because salmon is caught on the Pacific side, they don't eat sujiko. They eat mature salmon roe called ikura.
Endo Sujiko sold here is in the price range of 3,000 to 5,000 yen, which is a little expensive and difficult to sell at a supermarket. But there has been a demand for it as a local flavor gift for a long time.
— Sujiko is also depicted as a character. Sujiko is female due to its name, isn’t it?
Endo Because sujiko is immature, it is depicted as a slightly young female character.
Koseki/Suzuki Really? (Laughs)
Endo Am I wrong? (Laughs) In connection with this, they also created a four-frame manga. I was impressed.
— Gesoten's website has a section for manga. It is designed to appeal to manga fans and certain people rather than being aimed at everyone. I see they are reaching a wide audience.
Suzuki We try not to lose old customers. We try to find a balance between old and new. It should not be too modern or too stylish. We run a simulation but haven't shown it to Mr. Endo.
We created the website to sell Gesoten, not the website of Endo. We keep updating it, and we’ve got this website. We wonder who will view it. We do it very seriously because Mr. Endo is serious.
Koseki We think seriously about characters and four-frame manga. They are not just practical jokes. It is important that they match the store. They are designed as opportunities to increase contact with customers.
Suzuki The mail-order catalog has 100 pages, which is usually impossible considering the time and effort. But once we saw Endo’s direction, it has become “anything goes.” We started thinking that it would be more fun to defy the boundaries, which would also make it harder for competitors to keep up with us.
An older female customer says, “The store is much better”
— What do the older customers and regulars say about the changes in the store?
Endo An older female customer says, “It’s much better.” We cleaned and reorganized the store. She is pleased that it is warmer, cozier, and easier to find things than before.
We used to cook food brought by customers in the past. But now, I don't have time to accept irregular orders.
Suzuki He was doing all kinds of things. He not only cut fish but also grilled it.
Endo I still do that. I used to drive to pick up an older female customer to Endo in the past. She helped me with my job, and I gave her a lunch.
I also made the rounds of customers. When I got a call saying there was a mouse in the attic in the house, I got rid of the mouse as a service. I did all kinds of things.
— I've never heard of a supermarket that does that.
Suzuki He had nothing to do (laughs).
Endo Yes, I had a lot of time (laughs).
Koseki Good relationships with the neighbors have led to the current home delivery service. We started this because he wanted to help the local people in need. From Gesoten to daily necessities, products listed in the catalog are delivered for free anywhere in Yamagata City.
We’ve got a new specialty
— Finally, I would like to ask about winning the GOOD DESIGN AWARD. Not a lot of time has passed since you won the award in 2023, but please let me know if there are any changes.
Endo I knew of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD because some people told me to apply for it. Suginoshita made the application materials.
After applying, they said it would be great to be chosen as BEST 100. I jokingly replied, “I'd like to win the GOLD AWARD,” because I thought the GOLD AWARD was the highest. I was surprised that I actually won the GOLD AWARD.
As it’s rare for food products or the Tohoku area to receive the GOLD AWARD, I have had more opportunities to be interviewed.
People around me were happy about the award. Some of my customers collect or laminate newspaper articles in which I was interviewed. They bring and show them to me. It makes me happy.
Suzuki You went to see Mayor Takahiro Sato of Yamagata City, didn't you?
Endo He said, “We’ve got a new specialty.” But I was strangely nervous at the award ceremony, worrying that the audience would wonder why Endo, a local supermarket, was introduced as the winner of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD for its Gesoten.
I asked why I got the award. They answered “Everything.” They said everything about the Endo system and story, including Gesoten itself, the store design, and the contribution to the community, stood out. I was very happy.
Koseki With the application of the GOOD DESIGN AWARD, I was able to look back on the past progress. I almost forgot about the early days. But when I looked back, I realized the store was the result of step-by-step choices. We didn’t do what we couldn’t do.
Suzuki We've taken on new challenges that we haven't done before at supermarkets, but each of them has been done without pushing ourselves too hard, such as reusing old equipment used in the Endo's office. Everything is by necessity.
— I think you won the award because your direction and design are perfectly aligned, based on the history and relationships between Endo and local people. Once again, what is design for you, Mr. Endo?
Endo I thought that design was to create something commercially appealing, like wrapping paper or an advertising display. But I realized that many things could be done by design. Design can come up with new systems and consider how to make customers and people in town happy.
In my case, design involved reorganizing the mess in the store and thinking about how to sell Gesoten. We’ve created a store to make customers happy by solving each problem. Design leads to a big goal. I feel design is profound.
Suzuki Because it became such a hit, we are receiving design requests from people who have seen Endo. This is something I never imagined, but I feel like we've gotten there.
—— It is the power of design to create synergy and spread. Thank you very much for today.
Endo / Suginoshita
Endo's Gesoten was released in July 2018. Endo is a community-based supermarket. Before selling Gesoten, it faced a financial crisis due to the opening of a large chain supermarket. They revitalized the store by creating delicious, unprecedented, and highly appealing products. The award recognizes the overall efforts in VI, store design, product and service development, packaging, event planning, and promotion. https://gesoten.jp
- Award details
- 2023 GOOD DESIGN GOLD AWARD Gesoten "Endo’s Gesoten." https://www.g-mark.org/en/gallery/winners/20409
After working in the editorial department of “AXIS,” she became a freelancer. She writes, edits, and plans, with a focus on design and life culture. Her major editorial works include LIXIL BOOKLET series (book, LIXIL Publishing) and “Oishisa no Kagaku” (magazine, NTS Publishing).
While studying design at a vocational school, he encountered photography. He became absorbed in photography and went on to art college. After moving to Tokyo, he started working at a photography studio, mainly shooting fashion and archiving art works. He has been trying to shoot from the gap between various expressions and fields.