HomeOPINIONSelling memories in the tourist market

Selling memories in the tourist market

NZ Retail editor and associate publisher Sarah Dunn invites retailers to consider the real significance of souvenirs: Tourists aren’t just buying products, but keepsakes that carry their memories of a great holiday. 

The kitchen is one area where the trade-off between quality and price is readily apparent. Most of us don’t need and can’t afford professional-quality cooking tools, but a little investment goes a long way when it comes to the basics – double-walled stainless steel pots and pans are a world away from thin-bottomed saucepans that burn everything they hold, and cast iron beats peeling ‘non-stick’ frypans every time.

Good knives, in particular, are completely different beasts to the kind of blades people use on glass chopping boards or put through the dishwasher. With a properly sharpened knife, you can cut a tomato without squashing it, slice fine onion rings, dice stewing steak without sawing at all. 

The knives I use every day were bought on a trip I took with a dear friend from university in 2014. We made our way south from Tokyo through Gifu, Kyoto and Nara before ending up in Osaka, where a little idle Googling revealed our hotel was close to the restaurant supply district. 

While my friend enjoyed some vending machine beer and subtitled television in his room that evening, I popped out to Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street. I walked down our street, past a restaurant bearing a giant sculpture of an octopus with a bionic eye, through a twisting side road lined with neon signs, street food and people selling “sampuru” food models.

At the end of the road, I found a very utilitarian store aimed at the local commercial market. It was more or less a small warehouse – just a big metal shed lined with rows and rows of beautiful Japanese-made carbon steel knives.

The store’s elderly owner helped me pick out a sharpening block, a large all-purpose santoku and a small utility blade that’s great for peeling fruit and vegetables. After I’d paid, he took both knives out of their ornate boxes and ground their edges to a fine blade that, when my friend and I tested them back at the hotel, really did slice a hair laid across it. 

The whole process wasn’t what you’d call a polished retail experience, but few things are more memorable than a holiday purchase. Those two knives no longer split hairs, but they’re still the mainstay of my kitchen five years on, and I still briefly enjoy the memory of Osaka and the knife shop every time I use them. 

New Zealand retailers in our tourism centres offer a totally different experience with different products, but if my knives are anything to go by, they’re sending tourists home to all corners of the world with phenomenally lasting impressions.

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 763 August / September 2019.

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