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Foreign residents at work in Japan

From Finance to Furnishings

Theodore Jennings Moves from Salaryman to Entrepreneur

From the outside, Theodore Jennings’ home and business office is just another nondescript Japanese apartment. The entrance, however, is a portal to another world: decorated in black marble, with colorful curtains and jazzy art. And it’s the wraparound veranda—Jennings’ personal showroom—that is the real draw. Stepping-stones lead over a shallow pond inhabited by Japanese carp to a luxurious outdoor sofa, and barstools flanked by potted palms tempt visitors to stay for a drink and admire the nightscape of lights illuminating nearby Shinjuku skyscrapers.
The Texas native’s business is all about thinking outside the box, or perhaps more accurately, the house. The founder and CEO of Vacation Veranda—which transforms small Tokyo balconies with décor befitting a vacation destination—offers a simple but compelling concept. “The idea is to have a vacation on your veranda, anytime,” he explains. “It’s also a way to improve Tokyo’s living environment.” His four-year-old company is still in its infancy, but already counts the owners of numerous private residences and even an ambassador among its Tokyo clientele.
Jennings’ path to Japan was the result of a decision at college to study Japanese—he found he had a gift for languages and later entered an exchange program and studied at a university in Kyoto. That piqued his interest in working in Japan, and he moved here in 2000 to take a job in Tokyo’s financial sector. While there, the inspiration came for Vacation Veranda.
About two years passed since he came with the idea, however, before Jennings launched the business in 2010. “A lot of that time was spent sitting in my chair thinking about the project before I finally decided to pull the trigger,” he admits. Once committed, however, Jennings actively sought out advice from other foreign entrepreneurs, such as at events hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
In 2011, Jennings won a silver medal for his entry in the Lifestyle Garden Competition at the Hibiya Gardening Show. “It was really nice, because it was like the market speaking,” he says proudly. Jennings still handles most of the designs when not working on new business development, although he entrusts construction and installation to his five staff members.
After sixteen years in Japan, Jennings observes that being a foreigner can be both an advantage and a hindrance. He’s found that there is sometimes reluctance among Japanese to trust foreigners with business decisions. Collaboration with a Japanese sales manager has helped mitigate such issues by putting a Japanese face on the company.
Conversely, Jennings adds: “The very fact that I am a foreigner means I have different ideas, and that plays to my benefit.” Without any middlemen, Jennings says he can work faster as well as make decisions and be more flexible than Japanese companies that have more rules and procedures.
Jennings believes that Vacation Veranda’s concept is just beginning to catch on, particularly as his Japanese clients have a much more favorable impression of a specially designed and decorated veranda once they actually see one. He says these past few years have been all about sowing the seeds for future business.
Moreover, Vacation Veranda is starting to get requests from potential clients outside of Japan, and already has one project under way in Bangkok. “Saying that we’re from Tokyo is a great credential, and at some point we’re going to start leveraging that,” he says. “We’ll be in China, Singapore, Brazil and America.” His American design sense has changed the everyday lives of people living in Tokyo, and the trust he has inspired and his ability to transform spaces into vacation spots will surely earn him more fans throughout the world.

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