OPAS’ founder and President, Toshiyasu Abe shares his story with us in this personal blogpost about his background and the story of how OPAS came about:
I was born in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku Island of Japan, and raised in the city of Osaka, the second largest in Japan. I had a fairly traditional upbringing in Japan, just another young man among many, but from an early age I felt the strong desire to see more of the world than my home county. Only a few weeks after graduating from high school, I traveled to the United States by ship. It was the first of four different countries other than Japan in which I would reside, including Canada, Switzerland and Germany.
It was twenty-six years ago, in 1990 that I founded OPAS in Seattle, Washington.
Through this blog, I’d like to tell the story of OPAS. We have had some very interesting experiences in our history, I feel, and I also want to impart what wisdom I have regarding business. I’d like to share advice for those who wish to be successful in personal importing, based on my twenty-six years as the President of OPAS. I’d welcome feedback and questions from readers, so that I can write on topics you may be particularly interested in.
When I founded OPAS, there was no other business that offered this kind of forwarding service. Honestly, I don’t think many people understood my business model at first, but this may have been because they were Americans who were used to having a wide variety of shopping options and products at their disposal. Perhaps they didn’t understand the market for this kind of service, or the convenience and options it could allow for international buyers; or perhaps my explanation wasn’t quite right.
Remember, in 1990 when I founded OPAS, there was no online shopping. There wasn’t even “online” for most consumers; the earliest internet applications were used mostly by universities and for government purposes. But there was catalog shopping. It may sound humorously primitive now, but people in countries outside the US used to shop by sending order forms in the mail from these catalogs, or by phone if they spoke English. Fax machines were popular for this kind of ordering within Japan, but not as much in the US.
The fax machine was the key to beginning OPAS. I remember being astonished by the utility of a fax machine, and what I saw also was that many of these catalog stores didn’t ship to Japan. So with my fax machine and a stack of catalogs, I decided to build a bridge between the Japanese buyers and the American stores. I would place these orders in the US for my Japanese customers, and ship their products to them internationally.
As the age of the internet began, computers became more and more popular, appearing in every household. Soon, companies like Amazon.com and Google were founded. The way of shopping had transitioned from catalog shopping to online shopping, with a nearly unlimited amount of options for international buyers.
I never imagined how the way people shop would change so drastically in a quarter century, from 1990 to today. As I’ve watched the world of commerce become digital, I continue to wonder: how will the way people shop change in the future? It will be interesting to find out.