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PLATZ’s monozukuri improving quality of life for Japan’s elderly

Interview - October 24, 2022

Through both continuous innovation and acute awareness of customer needs, PLATZ continues to improve its medical bed and mattress products to support the elderly in Japan and beyond.

MASAHIRO JO, PRESIDENT OF PLATZ CO., LTD
MASAHIRO JO | PRESIDENT OF PLATZ CO., LTD

Can you tell us more about your manufacturing philosophy, your uniqueness, and the strengths of your firm that allow you to compete in the international market?

First and foremost, the strengths of Japanese manufacturers are that they can provide three major things that are indispensable to having to operate their business. One is safety, the second is assurance and reliability, and the third is stability. By having these three elements as the core, it is up to each company to how much they develop their own uniqueness and differentiate from other companies in order to compete in the market. For assurance, our company has been listed since 2015 on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Market Of The High-Growth and Emerging Stocks (MOTHERS). We provide safety by complying with Japanese industrial standards, and we even have an in-house standard that is much stricter than the Japanese industrial standard, so our products all comply with these high standards that we have set ourselves. For stability, we have a factory in Vietnam. It is a Taiwanese company that owns the factory, but 90% of the work is for us through a joint venture, so by having a factory solely dedicated to our production we can have a stable supply, and at the same time by continuously producing our products we can elevate and make sure that the quality is stable.

One of our core strengths is that Platz does all of the designing in Japan, and then does all the production in other countries, where the low human labor costs can dramatically cut down the cost of production. What is important here is providing high-quality, highly functional products at a low cost. High quality and low costs often don’t mix and go against the principles of each other, but through our efforts, we are able to realize high quality and high function at a low cost. We are very much focused on fine details in our production and in our product itself.

It is not that our technology is very unique or outstanding, but rather it is that we provide a product constantly and we keep challenging always, and when we update our products we always add at least two new features on each model. This is so that when we do our marketing or sales, we can openly say what these new changes are and get customers excited about our newest offerings.

Our second strength is that we stand on the side of our customers, and try to see things from their perspective. For example, nursing care products are on the rental market. In Japan, the welfare business model is that products are not sold but actually used on a lease, so our products are actually sold to a leasing company and they lease them out to the customers. Once a product's lifespan expires or the product requires maintenance, it comes back to our company and we will refurbish it and send it back again.

When we produce or develop our products, we not only take the perspective of the end user who is receiving the nursing care in account, but also the individual who is providing the care. In a way, you could say that what the care provider requires and what the receiver requires are sometimes not compatible, but we try to find a means that satisfies both ends. To that end, we are constantly adding new features, at least two for each new model. I think this represents why we are so strong in the market.

Our new product, the Yokaro, has a cushion that can disperse body weight making it much more comfortable for a patient receiving care, and at the same time, the angle can be adjusted to be much higher than a conventional bed. With the angle being this wide, the care receiver can sit up, and it enables the caregiver to be much more comfortable in doing their work. This bed is leased out for home use, and the update was actually quite revolutionary in the industry because it does not require any screws during assembly.



It might be a very small thing, but by combining and accumulating these small details, we are making our products easy to use and providing a very comfortable experience for the end users. One example of this is that the bed can be elevated to 78-80cm, which is much higher than the conventional ones. It makes the caretaker's job much easier, and for us, maintenance is much easier thanks to there being no small parts. All of these points add up to the strength of the core ethos of Platz.

 

I really like this idea of striking a balance between the needs of the person who is in the care, the caretaker, and your direct-to-customer leasing company. If I could ask you about another of your technologies, the Kneeparo +, which from my understanding is the first in the industry to have this automatic locking function when people are getting out of bed. Could you give a little bit of a more detailed overview of this technology, and how it is preventing accidents with end users?

This Kneeparo product is designed to resolve the issues that occur when a care receiver is being transferred from a wheelchair to a bed and vice versa. We have collaborated with Saga University’s professor Matsuo. In fact, he is a wheelchair user himself and had faced many challenges transferring himself to and from a bed to his wheelchair, so through the discussions we had with professor Matsuo we developed this product.



As an able-bodied human being, it is very difficult to catch the needs of people with disabilities, so by listening to those who are struggling on a daily basis we have listed the possible issues that they are experiencing, and out of that, we have chosen the ones that we feel we can tackle with a combination of functionalities in our products that can be offered at a reasonable price. We have incorporated multiple features in our Kneeparo +, but two of the major ones are firstly its automatic locking, meaning that if a person does not have functional use of their hands, they are still able to operate the product, and the second is an added cushion that prevents accidents and slippages, with its anti-slide function enabling users to transfer themselves to and from a bed without the assistance of a caretaker.

 

A theme of our recent interviews in the industry has been the importance of finding local partners to better understand the needs and experiences of disabled people in those markets. Are you similarly looking for those kinds of local partnerships in overseas markets?

Our target for overseas markets is in East Asia, Korea, China, and Hong Kong, mainly because the body size is very similar among Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans, so we can readily take these products and apply them to these markets. With Korea and Hong Kong, we have an exclusive agreement with a local agent, and especially with those two countries, they have structuralized their welfare industry so it is easier for us to penetrate.

In Korea, they have the Korean Industrial Standard (KIS) and by partnering with a local company we can expedite our process and therefore match our products with their standards. Additionally, by partnering with a local agent we can get a better understanding and grasp of the needs of the local market. Contrary to Korea, China’s welfare system is not structured enough. In Korea and Hong Kong, we conduct B2B business, but in China, our strategy is to do B2C business, and by that, I mean doing direct sales to customers. We have received good comments on our products in those regions from the customers using them. We started off working with our Chinese customers and talked to them through the interviews we conducted, and they mentioned how our products are of high quality and incomparable to the ones they have been using before.

We have been working with Chinese agents, but have not been able to grasp the direct needs of the end users, so in that sense, we realized that it's better if we do direct sales to our customers on a B2C basis, and this enables us to better understand in detail the needs of the Chinese people and thus provide products that cater to their needs. We are trying to provide a comprehensive service to the Chinese market by not only selling beds but also providing consulting services and advice on other welfare products. Additionally, we provide a ten-year warranty on our products to give assurance to customers.

In Korea and Hong Kong, we work together with local agents, but again, for China, we have established direct channels with our customers.


In regards to the Chinese market you’ve mentioned this issue with communication: how do you communicate how to make the best use of your products and the strengths of your products to end users? What is your strategy to overcome that obstacle and what is the biggest challenge that remains as part of your Chinese strategy?

We currently don’t have brand awareness and loyalty in China, and usually, when you buy a bed, that is a purchase that you will use for over ten years. So in this regard, it is important for us to stress the strengths of our beds and how comfortable it is for the end user. Also, it is important for us to meet the specific needs of each person depending on the disability or the physical ailments that they have. Depending on those factors, the demands from the customers may vary wildly, and I think this is where our strength in answering customers' needs in detail comes in.

 

You’ve mentioned how your current international strategy is centered around South Korea, China, and Hong Kong, but looking past those countries, have you identified any other markets or regions as areas of interest for expansion, and if so what is your strategy?

With COVID-19 still in play, we are very much still focused on East Asia, and for the next 5 years, our strategy is to continue to strengthen our position in the markets here. In the long run, Southeast Asia will be our next target, with countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Vietnam. This is because the Southeast Asian body size is very similar to here in Japan, so therefore we can apply our products to those markets. However, these areas are emerging markets, their politics are a bit unstable, and their welfare systems are not as structured. It will take some time before we enter those markets.

We are focused on China because they have the same experience as Japan with a super-aging population. Currently, China has over 200 million people over the age of 65, and that number is expected to rise to 250 million by 2030. With that growing aged population market, we want to seize the opportunity and secure our presence in the Chinese market. Once we secure the Chinese market, I’m sure everything else will fall into place.

 

I wanted to follow up by asking about your listing; as you mentioned earlier you are a small company, yet in 2015 you listed your company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange MOTHERS. Could you tell us a little more about the motivation and the process around your listing?

The founder of the company wanted to take the company away from a family-run business and make it public. He felt that unless he did so, the company would stagnate and not experience any growth. It's not so much about acquiring partners, but rather it was to provide reassurance and reliability to our customers. Through that, we can hire more talented personnel. I think that was another contributing factor to the decision, and it really revolved around strengthening our human resources. Also by going public we have increased our credibility in the eyes of banks and financial service providers.

 

Imagine that we come back and have this interview again on the last day of your presidency. What would you like to tell us, and what are your dreams and goals that you would like to have achieved by then?

It is often said that every 30 years things change, and the generation shifts. Our company is about 30 years old now. It is my responsibility to lay the basic foundation so that the company will continue to grow and sustain its position for the next 30 years. Once I feel I have achieved that, I think I would be ready to pass on the company to the next generation.

As a president, it is important to be flexible in changing yourself and to be able to rapidly change to match the ebbs and flows of society.  Risk management is also key, and it is important that I manage those for the benefit of the company.

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LEADER DATABASESee all Database >

Nobumasa Ishiai

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HIROSHI KOYAMA

MANAGING DIRECTOR
JUJO CHEMICAL CO., LTD.

Yoshihiko Hirano

President & CEO
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Yorifusa Wakabayashi

President and Representative Director, Chief Executive Officer
DAIO PAPER CORPORATION

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