CHIBA, Japan -- Ryuichi Katsumata, one of Japan's top Toyota dealers, brings a new twist to old traditions in a land where selling cars can be very, very different from what occurs in the United States.
Heir to the founding family of Chiba Toyopet Co., which sells nearly 17,000 vehicles annually at 59 locations, he keeps some things old school -- like selling cars door to door.
But Katsumata -- who has a penchant for rock guitar and designer suits -- takes a wider world view than his forefathers.
For starters, his training entailed a one-year stint in Toyota's assembly plants. Then he flew to Los Angeles, where Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. put him to work in a Lexus store.
When he returned to Japan, Katsumata had to grapple with something all but unheard of to his predecessors, who saw ever-increasing sales on the back of Japan's booming postwar economy and Toyota's relentless climb to becoming the world's biggest automaker.
The new challenge was how to keep the family empire growing amid a decade-long decline in domestic auto sales triggered by Japan's economic collapse. Not surprisingly, Katsumata looked overseas.
And in 2009, he was billed as the first independent Japanese dealer to open a store in China.
"A company that doesn't constantly change can't be a stable company," Katsumata said in an interview east of Tokyo at his head office, styled like a slope-roofed Japanese temple.