The Road to Hit Products by Kitamura Mori

Small Cloth Bag Sells Over Three Million

Economy Lifestyle

The idea for a successful product often comes from the most ordinary of places. The “Dot Pouch” is a small towel in the shape of a pouch that has a simple design but offers versatility and convenience that have won over consumers. In the fourth article in the “Road to Hit Products” series, Kitamura Mori tells the story.

Start with a square-shaped piece of terry cloth, with each side measuring 20 centimeters long. Fold it in half horizontally. Zip it up all around, and voila, you have a small pouch.

Dot Pouch is essentially a piece of terry cloth and a zipper. Though this is all there is to it, the product has been flying off the shelf. In May 2011, three years after its release, total shipments exceeded one million, and in the autumn of 2012, total sales hit three million.

A Young Employee with a Grand Design

(Above) More than three million Dot Pouches have been sold since the product hit the shelves in 2008.

Dot Pouch was developed by Layup Co., a small firm that specializes in toys and other designs. Located in Shibuya, Tokyo, Layup has more than 100 employees. Eyeup Co., a subsidiary of Layup, was in charge of its marketing. The product retails for ¥1,260. The relatively high price for what is essentially a small towel has not deterred buyers, however.

I had the opportunity to meet with Haga Mariho, the woman who had the idea for the product, and I asked her about how she thought of it and what happened on the road to its release.

“When I was in school, it was embarrassing for me to carry around sanitary napkins. Other pouches used for this purpose were identifiably distinctive, and it was a hassle carrying around a handbag so I could hide the pouch. I always thought it would be nice to have something more subtle and easy to carry around.”

One day Haga was thinking back on her experiences at school and looking at a zipper on one of her possessions. She realized that anything could be turned into a pouch with a zipper.

She happened to be holding a small towel in her hand at the time. “What would happen if I sewed a zipper on this?” This was the moment Dot Pouch was born. At the time, Haga was a newcomer to the company; with less than two years’ experience.

The Difficulties of Finding a Partner

Though earlier I used the phrase “this is all there is to it,” in reality coming up with an idea like this is no easy feat. Products born of an original idea, though simple, are basically created out of thin air. Seeing the idea through to the marketing stage can also be a grueling process. Dot Pouch was no exception. Haga recalls, “Though managers gave us the go-ahead almost immediately, it was almost impossible to find a towel manufacturer willing to produce it.”

The Imabari tag, with its distinctive red, white, and blue logo, provided another advantage.

The manufacturers they approached gave different reasons for turning Layup down. Some said the scale of production was too small, while others said they didn’t have the techniques to attach the zippers to the material. Attaching a zipper to a small towel is actually a time consuming process. According to Haga, some of the estimates they got were so absurdly high, they could not even be considered.

Just when the plans were about to be shelved, Haga decided to approach a company in Imabari, a city in Shikoku known for its high quality towels. She figured she had nothing to lose.

To her surprise, the executive she spoke with immediately agreed to give it a try. The firm had its own looms, so it was also able to produce original materials for the pouch.

By sheer luck, Layup joined forces with a company that manufactures Imabari towels, a major brand whose name is associated with quality. With the exception of products in a few special lines, nearly all the Dot Pouches are made out of Imabari cloth and carry the Imabari tag. The tie-up with the towel company certainly played a role in the product’s success.

Strong Sales Despite High Price

Deciding on the price was the final issue to deal with before the product’s release. Haga says that not everybody agreed on the proposed ¥1,260 price tag. The mini towels on the market were selling for about ¥500, and even the most expensive ones cost ¥800. Some of them worried that consumers would not be willing to pay more than a thousand yen for an item that was essentially just a small towel with a zipper.

“Given the production costs, we had no choice but to charge more. Besides, Dot Pouch was a one-of-a-kind product; there was nothing like it on the market. We finally figured that in the case of original products, if the price is perceived as reasonable, consumers will buy it,” explained Haga.

Layup started with a product line containing five designs. They decided to initially focus their efforts on selling all 500 pouches in the first batch (500 units). The company did not have the budget to advertise and only set up a sign in shops to describe how the pouch is used. Today the product line has expanded to 100 designs—quite a difference from the initial selection of five.

Dot Pouch can be used to store a range of goods, from skin-care products to beverage bottles. The pouch is ideal for storing beverages because the terry cloth absorbs condensation and can thus be carried around in a briefcase or a backpack. It is also just the right size for a smart phone.

Dot Pouch is used to store skin-care goods, plastic beverage bottles, and smart phones and has as many uses as it does users.

A Good Mix

When other firms saw how well Dot Pouch was selling, they began to develop their own versions. Though Layup had applied for a patent, other firms were legally able to release an imitation, as long as they made a slight change to the original design. A variety of Dot Pouch imitations followed.

Though a newcomer to the company, Haga successfully developed a product by bringing together two very ordinary materials. Her idea and her hard work, as well as her originality, deserve more praise than has been received so far from rival companies. As Haga notes, “The Imabari towel producer told us, ‘This is something none of us would have thought of, even a company with decades of experience.’ I guess working in a totally different industry was what let me come up with the idea.”

Photographs by Kitamura Mori

Kitamura Mori Dot Pouch Imabari towel Layup Eyeup bag zipper cloth