October 2006 - Per Inquiry

Toto, I Have a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Okay, I confess: I once took a “Power Schmoozing” class through one of those extension programs that promises to reveal the secrets of life in a few short hours. Among the questions we attendees had in mind: “When you walk into a room and don’t know anybody, how do you break the ice?” This same question most assuredly occupied the thoughts of two of our Western ERA colleagues-we’ll call them Mutt and Geoff- when they took their first trip to Japan.

The men’s flight had been delayed, so upon arriving at their hotel, Mutt and Geoff were late for an important dinner with a contingent of Japanese businessmen. Each raced off to his room to throw on wrinkled suits. As Mutt explained to me, despite being tardy and frantic, he had to relieve himself like the proverbial racehorse. It was then that he had his first encounter with a Toto Washlet C100.

Toto of Japan is the largest manufacturer of toilets in the world and makes some of the most regal and complex bathroom fixtures known to mankind in keeping with the country’s penchant for complex gadgetry. In Toto’s case, this included a porcelain throne with a hands-free solution that deployed a combination of jetted water and blow dryer to clean what my Polish mother-in-law trenchantly refers to as your dupek. In fact, the company tried to introduce this innovation to the Western world via an infomercial. But, alas, its dual-action water pressure was apparently overkill amid a culture where two-ply tissue is the standard of luxury.

But back to Mutt’s story. After finishing his business, the marketer peered over the commode, when suddenly the control panel of the Toto C100 caught his curious eye. He pressed a random button. Slowly, a little wand emerged and unleashed a jet of water that completely soaked the front of his best suit and tie. This was not exactly the preferred way to press the creases out of a well-traveled garment.

With no time to change, he hustled downstairs to join the waiting throng hoping no one would notice his suit was now awash with eu de toilette. Upon entering the room, he encountered Geoff, remarking, “Did you try out that fancy toilet?” “Yes, I got soaked!” was his colleague’s surprising reply. They compared the extent of their damage before joining the long table of Japanese executives.

Later, the duo offered their hosts a sake-fueled confessional, relating their individual duels with the magic wand, which unleashed a torrent of its own-one of laughter enjoyed by all. “After that,” Mutt revealed, “It was like we were best friends.” They have been doing business together ever since.

Mutt had discovered the answer to that question posed all those years ago about breaking the ice. The answer was simple: find common ground and a shared experience. In his case, the universal nature of things wasn’t simply the call of nature, but the common foible that seeded that common ground. Since then these two colleagues have helped lead the industry and lent new meaning to the term “flush with success.”

Rick Petry is the chief marketing officer of Downstream and the current chairman of the Board of the ERA. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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