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Japanese pioneer in infection control expands to Southeast Asia

Interview - December 24, 2020

Since 1953, Hakuzo Medical has been fully supporting those workingon the front lines of healthcare. By listening closely to the needs of medical professionals, Hakuzo supplies a range of high-quality sanitary materials for hospitals, health clinics and nursing homes, including infection control products, surgical/gauze-related products, bandages, absorbent cotton, gynecology-related products and nursing care materials. We speak with president Shunji Hitotsubashi to learn more about the Hakuzo’s products and about the company’s plans to become a pioneer in infection control in Southeast Asia


For the past 25 years, competitors like China, Taiwan, South Korea are replicating the Japanese monozukuri process, but at a cheaper price. But, as a company that makes highly reliably and quality products, what is the role of monozukuri in your products?

Our monozukuri was born through our production processes and then introduced to the other industries we work in, like medical centers. We also spread our monozukuri through speaking with people in the medical field, like doctors and nurses, often at academic conferences.


Are you looking to introduce your products to overseas hospitals and medical centers?

Yes, we are. We set up a sales office in Thailand about 2 years ago and we are building a plant there which is expected to start production in early 2021. This plant will focus on supplying the medical products to the South East Asia market including sales into the local Thai market. Currently we are still supplying the South East Asia market from Japan, but with the completion of our Thailand plant, we wish to supply more price competitive products in this region.


Having such a unique and recognizable logo, how are you using your logo abroad to be better known and easily recognized?

The logo is derived from an ancient Chinese storybook saying ‘The Elephant is smart, prudent and brave’. We are still very new on the international stage but we certainly can use the unique logo to our advantage. But having a unique logo is not enough to be recognized, we hope to keep improving our quality and would like to have our logo and brand be associated with high quality.


Can you tell us what your best-selling products in Japan and overseas are?

The Push Swab Series is a swab stick that is packed together with the disinfectant. The Push Swab Series is widely used in operating theaters in Japanese hospitals for patients’ skin disinfection. It comes in different types of disinfectants and can be used in a wide range of surgeries. This product is safe, convenient, and cost effective, making it an instant hit in Japan when we first launched it.


Are you looking for co-creation partners overseas?

Yes, it is something that we have been trying but it is easier said than done. Doing JV with foreign companies requires a lot of research, overseas connections, and resources, we are working on it slowly but surely.


What is your assessment of the sentiment that now is the best time for Japanese companies in the medial field to expand and sell their products overseas?

As you know Japan produces some of the best medical products in the world, and our medical products can be very successful overseas with the right strategy. Japan’s population is shrinking faster than ever and it is always a good time to export our products. But having said that, this year is a unique year with the COVID-19 outbreak, we had a hard time satisfying our customers’ needs even in Japan. But in the long term, overseas market is likely to be the solution for our shrinking domestic market.


What is your midterm strategy to continue midterm growth?

Overseas sales make up only a few percent of our total sales and that is why Japan is still a very important market to us. But for midterm growth, we are putting a lot of effort in growing our overseas sales because the Japan population is shrinking very rapidly. Currently we still rely a lot on our overseas distributors and partners to sell our products, but we may adjust our strategies from time to time like expanding into new market like the OTC.


What role do Europe and North America play in your company?

As you know Japan is located in Asia and focusing on the Asia market makes the most sense to us right now. There are many giant medical players in Europe and North America and as a SME, we want to utilize our resources in the best possible way by focusing on Asia.


If we return in four years for another interview, what would you like to tell us and have accomplished by then?

Hopefully we will have become a pioneer in infection control in Southeast Asia by then. We are now fully focused on setting up our Thailand plant, and we want to make sure that we have a smooth production facility that produces stable supply to our customers in South East Asia. By utilizing ample knowledge and experience that we have ever got, we wish to contribute to the strategy for infection control in the region. We will be celebrating our 70th anniversary in 2023, and I am planning to organize a company trip for all our employees to visit our Thailand plant in that year.