Business

Radiant male clerks look to tempt female shoppers

by Yoshino Matsui

Women are facing a cunning new strategy aimed at loosening their purse strings — attractive young men working as clerks in cosmetics and women’s clothing departments.

Printemps Ginza Co., a department store in Tokyo’s Ginza district, was one of the first Japanese firms to deploy the charms of “ikemen” — a buzz word meaning a handsome man or a cool guy — as a ploy to boost sales.

The store, which is an affiliate of the Printemps department store in Paris, made headlines in September when it hired a former male fashion model as a receptionist. Katsushi Yamaguchi, 38, was the first man to be hired by a department store in Japan to work at its reception desk.

At the same time, the store formed a sales promotion team known as the “Printemps Boys.”

The formation of the team, which comprises men between 22 and 30, could be viewed as a sound business move in light of the fact that 80 percent to 90 percent of its customers are women in their 20s and 30s.

Yuki Fukuhara, a Printemps Ginza spokeswoman, said the Printemps Boys are not aimed at replicating the phenomenon of showbiz or sporting icons who have been lionized as ikemen.

“We didn’t mean to form a group of our male employees who are as handsome as models,” she said. “They are all sales professionals who are also in charge of purchasing and who can make customers feel content with their affable demeanor.”

Group members usually work separately on their respective sales floors, ranging from jeans and footwear to kitchenware. They are summoned as Printemps Boys on special occasions, such as offering free glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau to customers on its global release date.

“I’m happy that we, men, can work at the front line of our company despite the fact that its main target is women,” beamed Hirofumi Arai, a 25-year-old Printemps Boy, while serving the wine.

Arai, who sells jeans, said he loves his job, though he confessed that it is awkward for him to tell female customers to try on garments of a larger size.

The department store decided to boost its use of male clerks after introducing its first male sales clerk for women’s clothing last year.

The latter move turned out to be a huge hit, with the clerk in question outperforming his female peers and becoming the No. 1 sales person on the floor.

“Customers said they had a novel sensation when they were attended to by male clerks, who can give them opinions about clothing based on male perspectives that are fresh to them,” Fukuhara said.

A similarly favorable impression of male flight attendants led a new airline based in Miyazaki to operate a recent round-trip flight between Tokyo and Miyazaki with only male attendants.

Skynet Asia Airways Co. issued a special boarding certificate to some 250 women and men who used the flights, most of whom were unaware of the initiative — the first of its kind in Japan — until boarding.

The certificate did not feature the term “ikemen” but featured personal information about the attendants, most of whom were in their 20s.

This information included their hobbies, why they decided to become flight attendants and their reputation among coworkers. One attendant, for example, was described as a swimmer who was “very popular among his female colleagues.”

Mikiko Hori, a Skynet Asia spokeswoman, said some female passengers asked for souvenir photographs of the flight attendants.

“We have been receiving comments from many female passengers that they found services by male attendants pleasantly new,” she said.

Some told the airline they were pleased when a male attendant smiled at them and treated them nicely.

Skynet Asia, which has six male and 60 female flight attendants on its payroll, may operate flights of this kind again if it receives requests from customers.

The phenomenon of companies employing attractive males to woo female customers is a byproduct of uncertainty over the Japanese economy, according to Takuro Morinaga, an economist at UFJ Institute.

“Employment and wages have become shaky,” he said. “And men can no longer promise to provide lifelong financial security when they propose marriage.”

The gloomy economic outlook has set off the natural principle of “good-looking people always win” among men, Morinaga said, adding that the principle has long been at work among women.

“When the future is uncertain and no man can guarantee everlasting financial stability, it’s only natural for women to be drawn to a good-looking one,” he said.

The introduction of male fashion clerks at Printemps Ginza and the use of male flight attendants at Skynet Asia have thus far been well-received by customers, the two companies said.

At the department store, the male clerks have boosted the motivation of female workers, said Fukuhara.

“Female clerks have pride in their extensive knowledge of fashion and in understanding female customers’ feelings well,” she said. “And they are now feeling they must beat their male colleagues at any cost.”