SoftBank Corp. and Group Company ASKUL Team Up to Help Small Businesses Solve their Problems with Digital Solutions

ASKUL Corporation President & CEO Akira Yoshioka and SoftBank Corp. Representative Director & COO Yasuyuki Imai unveil “Biz-Raku,” a new business for small and medium-sized enterprises

ASKUL Corporation President & CEO Akira Yoshioka and SoftBank Corp. Representative Director & COO Yasuyuki Imai unveil “Biz-Raku,” a new business for small and medium-sized enterprises

As reported by SoftBank News in May 2022, SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434) announced that its Enterprise Business Unit is extending its reach beyond large companies to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as part of its growth strategy. In the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022, SoftBank had transactions with 94% of large corporate companies, while, by contrast, it did business with roughly 10% of the SME market. Accordingly, expanding its SME customer base represents a growth opportunity for SoftBank’s enterprise sales.

SoftBank’s Enterprise Business Unit, led by Representative Director & COO Yasuyuki Imai, is now working to cultivate relationships with SMEs. One way it is doing this is by collaborating with group companies with large SME customer bases. One such group company is ASKUL Corporation.

ASKUL has been providing workplace goods and services to SME companies in a wide range of industries for more than 20 years. The company operates a mail order site aimed at SME customers, and as of February 2022 it offered 9.5 million items. In addition to office supplies, customers in the medical and nursing care industries can also use ASKUL’s site to purchase pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

ASKUL also operates LOHACO, a shopping site for consumers that provides daily necessities. LOHACO offers affordable prices and the quick delivery of groceries, kitchenware, medicines, cosmetics, and other goods around the clock. LOHACO’s customers number more than 8.5 million at this time of writing.

“Biz-Raku”: a new service to help SMEs digitally transform their businesses

“Biz-Raku”: a new service to help SMEs digitally transform their businesses

At a press conference held on October 31, 2022, ASKUL held a press conference in Tokyo to unveil a business line in collaboration with SoftBank. Called “Biz-Raku” (which means “make business easier” in Japanese), ASKUL President & CEO Akira Yoshioka explained that the new solution business uses the power of digital technology to solve business-related problems faced by SMEs. The Biz-Raku website offers carefully selected software-as-a-service (SaaS) and telecommunication products and services that SMEs require to digitally transform their businesses.

While large companies in Japan have made progress in developing Internet environments for telework, the telework implementation rate at SMEs remains low at about 30%. Furthermore, SMEs are facing labor shortages and increased workloads to comply with legal revisions to invoicing systems, for example. While the need to digitize work processes is increasing, many SMEs face the problem of not having in-house IT staff and the appropriate digital tools.

In collaboration with SoftBank, ASKUL selected easy-to-use products and services to address SME customer needs, including communication products such as smartphones, Wi-Fi connectivity, groupware, and information security. SoftBank's marketing and system development staff is providing expertise in customer support. SB Engineering Corp., a SoftBank Corp. group company, is providing IT support for Biz-Raku so SMEs can solve their IT system-related problems.

As a one-stop support service, Biz-Raku offers free consultations, as well as support—from product introduction to after-sales service—according to the content of a customer consultation.

Biz-Raku offers consultations, IT support and hand-picked services

Biz-Raku is made up of three main services. These include:

    1. "Biz-Raku Consultation Room," a free service that allows SME customers to consult by phone or online about their work-related digitization and IT utilization issues.
    2. "Minnano IT Support (IT Support for Everyone)," an agency service for Information System Departments that utilizes dedicated tablets as a solution for the lack of IT support systems issue that many SMEs face.
    3. A lineup of 32 carefully selected SaaS and telecommunication products, including original products. Some products include Zoom for web meetings, LINE WORKS for business-related chat, PrimeDrive for online storage, WeWork for workspaces and ‘Y!mobile’ for telecommunications, among others.

Biz-Raku born from group company synergy meeting

Biz-Raku born from group company synergy meeting

At the press conference, SoftBank’s COO Yasuyuki Imai explained that the proposal for Biz-Raku came from ASKUL at a meeting among group companies to discuss ways of creating group synergies. “We were very interested in the project after ASKUL proposed it, and we’d like to contribute to the digitalization of SMEs together with ASKUL, which is strong in this customer segment,” he said.

Asked about what distinguishes Biz-Raku from other SME service offerings, Imai said that ASKUL already has a vast customer base that can be approached. Rather than pitching certain products, which is the usual case in sales calls, the conversation will start with listening to what problems SME customers are facing.

ASKUL and SoftBank will continue to promote the digitalization of SMEs by further expanding their products and services to meet evolving customer needs and workstyles.

(Posted on November 21, 2022)
by SoftBank News Editors