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Providing high quality visual communications from Japan to the world

Interview - May 29, 2023

For more than a century now, King Printing has furnished the large-format printing industry with its original printers and unique know-how. With high-quality, large-format inkjet printing and precise color tuning, allied to a company structure that prioritizes client satisfaction, the firm is now looking to consolidate its presence in the overseas market.

YUKI MITSUHIRO, PRESIDENT OF KING PRINTING CO., LTD.
YUKI MITSUHIRO | PRESIDENT OF KING PRINTING CO., LTD.

Can you please share with us what you believe to be the core competencies or strengths that set Japanese firms apart from your regional competitors?

I think that Japan's strength is the quality of the products and services. Around the world, they must be using the same types of machines, so the output or the finished products should be the same across the world. However, we still find some differences between Japan and other countries, and I think that's because of people using those machines, or operations for those machines. What sets us apart is the detailed care and sensitivity which were nurtured by Japanese culture.

Due to the Japanese people's thoughtfulness and sensitivity, we have high quality products, services, and hospitality, adding more strength to the Japanese industry. Also, when it comes to high mix and low volume, it requires a more complicated management system, and the Japanese people's characteristics are contributing to that aspect as well.

 

Can you tell us a little bit more about how King Printing embodies these qualities that you've just mentioned?

For the management of high mix and low volume production, we have introduced cutting-edge facilities and utilized IT systems, but in the printing industry, what we do is basically put ink on paper to produce what is requested by customers.

Thus, the outcome should not be different among the different countries as we are using the same types of machines and materials to make that happen across the world. However, we still see the superiority in our products in terms of the beautiful finish of the printing.

The reason we can see that kind of difference is that we make more effort to reduce the defect rate and have more passion and pride to make the product better. That kind of high-standard awareness that people have is contributing to the high quality of our product.

Ultimately, people contribute to better products rather than systems, so I'm focusing on the education of people and fostering our organization in order to maintain high standards.

 

In your answer, you talked about having skilled and passionate operators, as well as the importance of enriching your human resources and passing on this expertise. I imagine that this is a big challenge, given Japan's aging population and demographic decline. The idea of being able to secure those human resources - young people who are passionate about this field. Can you tell us about how you've been navigating some of the challenges Japan's aging population presents for your business?

Before I speak about the decline in the population, I think it's important to note that the printing market itself has been shrinking for some time, not only in Japan but also in other countries due to the decrease of paper media demand along with its transition to digital media. Additionally, Japan is facing the challenge of an aging society and declining population, making it an even more difficult situation for us.

To respond to this rapid change, we are trying to make printing media more convenient for potential users to encourage more demand in the market. To achieve this goal, we are improving efficiency in the production process especially for high mix and low volume products to enhance the cost performance and reduce lead times. We have introduced advanced cutting-edge equipment and are converting manual processes to automated processes to enhance production speed. We have also developed an in-house system for production management and cost calculation to improve our production process.

Thanks to these efforts, we have seen an improvement in productivity in the past few years. While we don't see any shortage in the labor force at the moment, there is the risk of a labor shortage in the future, so we will continue to make our company more attractive to young talent.

 

A common response to the challenges of an aging population has been looking overseas for human resource procurement and pursuing other markets. Can you tell us more about what inspired you, or motivated you, to go to Taiwan in 2011?

I think it's rare for a small or mid-sized printing company to enter overseas markets, but we were prompted by one of our clients, who entered the Taiwanese market and needed support for local printing. Since we were part of a user network within the Asian countries using the same types of printers made by overseas manufacturers, we had a lot of vendors in Asian countries who could provide support.

As we started providing support for a client in Taiwan, and working with a local partner, we found differences in printing quality between Japan and Taiwan, which were driven by the people operating the machines. We also found a gap in the quality demanded by the Japanese company in Taiwan and the quality that could be produced locally. This situation presented a business opportunity for us.

When I talk about quality, it's not just about the appearance of the printed product, but also about operational services, including delivering the product to the right place. Enhancing the service and quality, including communication, will be a key competitive advantage for Japanese companies working in the overseas market. Therefore, in our Taiwan branch we are enhancing quality, and introducing printing equipment though small scale.



You mentioned that when you first went to Taiwan, it was to support a client entering the market. As companies spend more time in those kinds of localities, they start supporting local companies and partners. Are you looking to increase your number of foreign clients in Taiwan and Asia more generally?

“Yes” to answer this question, as we are seeking more opportunities with local Taiwanese clients, moreover, trying to expand our business in other countries in Asia. Currently, most of our clients in Taiwan are Japanese companies. Since many clients in Taiwan value cost and speed over quality, oftentimes we cannot beat the local printers. We have been conducting sales activities in Taiwan for about ten years, and we started seeing changes in the clients’ perspective recently. Their standard is getting closer to the Japanese one, so I expect they will find more value in our quality at some point.

The shift from print media to digital media has been driven by growing public awareness of the environmental impact of printing. This can also encompass the idea that quality can come from the sustainability of the printed deliverable, and many developers are pursuing this so-called carbon neutral printing activity, but there are obviously some difficulties present. If you talk about outdoor signage, for example, eco solvent inks are notorious for fading in the sunlight, so it can be hard to use these environmental alternatives to get the best results. I'm wondering how you're reconciling these two things. What kind of sustainable printing solutions are you able to offer your clients at this time?

We are mainly using eco-solvent inkjet printers, but we are shifting to UV-curable and latex ink printers in order to become more eco-friendly.

Regarding the materials for the printing paper, we are trying to use what's called FSC  (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper, and also proposing to our clients to switch from foam board to cardboard-type material, so we are trying to offer more eco-friendly solutions to clients. However, materials for outdoor signage still require PVC or synthetic paper due to its durability against outdoor environmental changes, and it's hard to change materials for outdoor printing without increasing cost.

 

You mentioned this idea of a constant pursuit of efficiency, and you mentioned in an earlier answer about how you're integrating certain IT. You talked about an in-house developed production management system, as well as how you're automating your process. Can you tell us a little more about how you believe that digital technologies and automation can transform the printing industry, and also about your own experience using these tools to improve your service?

In SMEs, cost management is often not done in a precise way. Speaking about offset printing, there is already an established cost calculation method in the printing industry, so its management of this process has been done quite accurately. However, for inkjet printing, which demand is increasing in these years, the cost management is not done in a precise way.

One reason why we didn't have that precise management is because most of the inkjet printing companies operate on a small scale and with lack of know-how, we had not established such a cost calculation system like offset printing has.

We are dealing with both offset printing and inkjet printing, so we wanted to have a certain management system which is able to deal with both printing systems. However, we did not find it in any existing system, thus we started developing that kind of system in-house and have already introduced a part of the system for cost management.

The system has not been perfectly completed yet, but thanks to this system, we are now able to make more precise analyses such as we have discovered that we were not making as much profit as we thought in certain areas, while other areas were actually more profitable than we realized.

With further pursuit of this system, we hope to improve efficiency, eliminate unnecessary competition on cost, and invest in areas that will enhance our competitiveness.

 

You entered the Taiwanese market in 2011, as the first step in your overseas expansion. I'm very curious what you see as being the next key steps in your overseas development. Are there any other countries besides Taiwan that you're targeting, and if so, how would you go about your expansion?

Following our opening a branch in Taiwan, we sought to expand into other regions such as South Korea and Hong Kong but could not achieve the desired results back then.

However, we are planning to enter a Southeast Asian country this year and we have already started researching customer’s demand to decide which country would be the best to enter.

Speaking about the specific way to enter another market, of course, one option is to collaborate with a local vendor, but we also think that it’s possible to establish our own factory from the start with experience and confidence we have gained in 10 years in Taiwan. We will aim to enter with the best way for us, clients, and partners.

Let's say we come back to interview you again in four years' time for your company’s 110th anniversary. What would you like to tell us about your goals and dreams for the company in that timeframe, and what would you like to have achieved by then?

Looking ahead to our 110th anniversary, our goal is to grow our sales to 150% compared to 2022. Achieving this goal will be challenging, as we need to work with all employees together and grow by at least 10% per year. Since the domestic market is shrinking, overseas development is crucial to achieving this target, and we are working closely with our employees to make it happen by our 110th anniversary.

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