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Due largely to sluggish consumption and the graying of society, door-to-door vendors are staging a nationwide comeback.

“This is such a small town that we might have gone under had we not maintained close relations with customers,” said Kenichi Okano, who runs a cosmetics and fashion-goods shop in Onishi, Gunma Prefecture, a town of about 7,000 people.

The town used to be prosperous, turning out garden stones and timber before the collapse of the bubble economy.

The opening of a large store near JR Fujioka Station about 20 minutes away cut sales at Okano’s shop by about 30 percent.

Okano hit on the idea of going door to door taking orders to help keep the shop, which his father opened, afloat. He began visiting customers armed with copies of a flier he produces himself.

“Why don’t you bring me some cream next time, since you have gone to all the trouble to visit me this time,” he said one customer told him.

Through such legwork and persistence, orders increased sharply.

Business analysts say sluggish consumption and the increasing number of elderly people have added to the trend of fewer people visiting shops.

Okano even picks up customers from their homes and drives them to his shop and back again at no charge. Okano’s wife, Michiko, meanwhile gives female customers beauty counseling in the store.

The shop has now grown to have a sales contract with cosmetics company Kose Corp.

The Yamaguchi Oshima Agricultural Cooperative Union of Yamaguchi Prefecture has meanwhile remodeled a 3-ton truck into an order-taking vendor wagon that visits villages twice a week.

Co-op official Akihito Kimura said the “moving shop” is popular. He said the co-op manages to make ends meet.

The Ministry of Economy, Industry and Trade said the number of shops delivering milk to homes increased in 2002 for the first time in 26 years.

With the aging society and growing health consciousness, the number of households signing up for milk deliveries from Meiji Diaries Co. has doubled in the last decade.

Demic Corp. of Hyogo Prefecture is expanding its business chiefly by delivering dairy products to homes in the prefecture and in Shikoku.

Demic President Tadayoshi Masutomi said the company has switched from early morning to daytime deliveries because it offers more scope for taking orders.

Takumi Sato, manager of the company’s Suzurandai shop in Kobe, said he was able to sell a black vinegar drink to a customer who were tired of yogurt.

The shop is also expanding its health-food business.

Masutomi described his company as a “butlerlike order-taking business.” He said he plans to list its shares on the stock market.

Nerima Ward in Tokyo is meanwhile giving priority to home visits for the elderly by ward representatives.

Yoko Suzuki, a researcher at UFJ Research Institute who is studying family sociology, said the door-to-door approach is indispensable for elderly people who live alone.

“This kind of thing is becoming a social trend as people seek a revival of a society in which acquaintances keep watch” on elderly people, she said.

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