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Sink-tacular solutions: Shigeru Industry's stainless steel masterpieces

Interview - March 7, 2024

As Japan embraces a pivotal time in manufacturing, Shigeru Industry stands as a beacon of reliability and quality craftsmanship. Specializing in stainless steel kitchen sinks and countertops, Shigeru Industry's flagship product, the JS15 Sink Series, redefines kitchen functionality with its unique design featuring minimal corner radius and deep drawing technology. Leveraging synergies with parent company NSSC, Shigeru Industry ensures the highest standards of quality and precision in its products.

SHOICHI IYAMA, PRESIDENT OF SHIGERU INDUSTRY CO., LTD.
SHOICHI IYAMA | PRESIDENT OF SHIGERU INDUSTRY CO., LTD.


It is our view that Japan is at a very exciting time for manufacturing. On one hand, we have had major supply chain disruptions in the last three years, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as strain arising from global geopolitical developments. As a result, we are seeing many multinational groups try to diversify their supply chains with a focus on reliability. This is where Japan can enter; a country known for decades of high reliability, trustworthiness, and short lead times when it comes to production. Now, with a depreciated JPY, it is our view that there’s never been a more opportune moment for Japanese manufacturers to meet the pressing needs of this macroeconomic environment. Do you agree with this premise, and why or why not? What do you think are the advantages of Japanese firms in this current economic environment?

Personally speaking, it is difficult to tell at this moment if Japanese companies are in a pivotal time for new opportunities with the depreciation of the JPY and supply chain confusion. For 65 years since 1959, we have supplied stainless steel kitchen sinks and counters mainly for Japanese residential houses. Now, there is some counterflowing wind against us, such as population decrease, and new housing starts decrease in Japan as well as in many advanced countries. However, from the standpoint of environmental problems and natural resource saving, the recyclability of stainless-steel products will receive increased recognition from now on. In our 65 years of history, we experienced the closing of our one main factory, influenced by demand decline, partly because of the prevalence of decorative products made from plastic artificial marble. But we think stainless steel are excellent material because the scrap of stainless steel among various construction waste comes back to the melting furnace, at any cost, as an important raw material. In this sense, the advantages of our company can be said to be “recyclability” from the standpoint of environmental economics rather than the macroeconomic environment. Of course, it is important for us to expand new overseas markets. Regardless of the depreciation of the JPY or any other macroeconomic situation, going overseas is what we see as a viable step forward to secure sustainable growth.

I have an engineering background and, in the past, I saw that price competition was the key to the company’s growth, so increasing business and operability efficiency to reduce the cost was our main focus. With the changing times, it has become important for us to elevate the originality of our company and provide unique products to the market. Shigeru pride is the competence to supply our recyclable stainless-steel products with originality, high quality, and accurate delivery for domestic and overseas markets.



You mentioned your aim to bring high-quality products to customers and then export those overseas. One main series of products you have is your JS15 Sink Series, a series of multi-functional square sinks that also feature the smallest radius of corners in pressed sinks at only 15 mm, as well as increased depth due to your deep drawing technology that you utilize. Can you tell us more about why customers should install JS15 sinks in their homes?

Many people in neighboring Asian countries as well as in Japan are not satisfied with their space for housing. Also in kitchen space, an important issue is how effectively people can do the cooking in that limited space. The sinks of square type themselves are now prevailing all over the world, and they vary in raw material, manufacturing method, and design.  Among them, our JS15 sink series has open space realized by minimum corner R with enough depth and can be fitted with 2-stage rails vertically inside the sink where 5 different accessories can work functionally. For example, the upper rails expand cooking space with a cutting board, while the lower rails help your cooking operation with running water. A mini bowl also can be attached to the upper rails with enough water for vegetable washing. The JS15 sink excels in various functions within limited sink space. Additionally, its distinctive beautiful appearance with No.4 polishing is attracting people’s minds at home and overseas, now, especially in Hong Kong and Vietnam.

This JS15 sink has been developed with the stainless-steel material technology of NIPPON STEEL Stainless Steel Corporation (NSSC), our major shareholder. NSSC brought forward the most appropriate material and Shigeru sought for its ideal press molding conditions. A combination of NSSC’s material technology and Shigeru’s press technology has realized its very small corner radius and large depth.

* JS15 sink series are registered in Industrial Product made in JOETSU: https://madeinjoetsu.jp/ | https://madeinjoetsu.jp/industry/2017/02/140/

 

Shigeru’s parent company is NSSC (NIPPON STEEL Stainless Steel Corporation) and you mentioned how you worked with them to achieve this sink. What other synergies are you able to leverage with your parent companies as your major shareholders?

In the 1970s when our company stood under difficult circumstances, NSSC (Nippon Stainless Inc. of the day) acquired capital in Shigeru Industry. Since then, we have been realizing the reinforcement of business infrastructure with many kinds of NSSC’s support including management and technology. Through the human support from NSSC, we have gained the restructuring of business management, quality assurance, product development, and others, although our company operation is independent as a different type of business from the material industry. Relating to technical synergies, for example, the manufacturing of stainless-steel sinks has been supported both by their laboratory’s FEM analysis for our drawing process and by technical advice on choosing steel grades. In fact, the key success factor of the JS15 sink was the stainless-steel grade choice. Moreover, stainless steel counter needs various designs which have been realized with special finished stainless steel including bright annealing, rolled emboss, and various kinds of coil polishing supplied by NSSC. Although there are many kinds of materials used in the production of kitchen counters such as plastic, ceramic, quartz, melamine, stone, and wood, our forte is stainless steel.


Rolled emboss surface


Vibration polish


As a manufacturer of stainless-steel countertops, what does a perfectly designed kitchen system look like in your eyes?

At first, the kitchen system shall be functional in accordance with each residential space, realizing workability in the kitchen space. Japanese homes have limited space, and it is not always possible to have enough space for complete system kitchens. In order to compensate for this shortage of space the JS15 series was developed. As a matter of fact, this product has sold the best in Hong Kong and I think this is because our representative there has worked well with YouTube influencers who have strongly promoted the JS15 sink series, emphasizing its functionality for limited-space kitchens in Hong Kong similar to Japan.

From the standpoint of pure design, the aesthetic appearance and cleanliness shall be maintained for as long as possible. Recently, in many cases of stainless-steel counters, vibration polished finish is made the most use of, because the finish is hard to get scratched and easy to be remedied. Considering its aesthetic appearance, we think a stainless-steel sink and counter could be suitable for many kinds of cabinet design, including natural wood cabinets which have been preferred recently. Now, we have been studying some newly designed finishes for stainless steel counters.


An original kitchen with JS15 sink and stainless steel counter


An original kitchen with JS15 sink and stainless steel counter


An original kitchen with JS15 sink and stainless steel counter


Going overseas you need to understand the food culture in a country in order to tailor your products to those markets. Working with a local partner in this sense is extremely important in achieving the success you’ve experienced in Hong Kong for example. When it comes to finding these international partners, what are you looking for? Could you elaborate on the key characteristics you look for when searching for a local overseas partner to work with?

The most important point for our partnership might be a common ground of understanding stainless steel products’ existential value and our high-quality product portfolio. At the same time, we expect our partner to have enough knowledge both about the assembly of the sink and counter and about the installation of a kitchen unit in each residence. In the case of overseas business, at the current moment, we export simple bodies of stainless-steel sinks which are assembled overseas with various types of counters and are installed with water supply and drainage, etc. which are characteristic for each country. Our partners with a multitude of experience in the site operation could expand our product market by means of their appropriate promotion method.


Top mount sink


In the modern world, fewer Japanese homes are being demolished and renovation seems to be taking over as the newest trend. Here the renovation market has grown to be worth roughly JPY 7 trillion in the last year, and globally the renovation market is estimated to be worth about USD 500 billion by the year 2028. As this growth in the renovations market continues to take place, what opportunities does it present to your firm?

Although we have traditional B2B business with many finished kitchen unit manufacturers, we have developed home page sales near B2C business for recent 10 years. We can adjust our counter size by millimeter unit for individual housing needs. It’s just like tailor-made. This custom-made counter with a favorable type of sink is welcomed by the renovation market. We have supplied over 900 doors’ customers per year with our original counter or sink. Some customers are local builders, and some are local furniture shops. They all squarely make up original kitchens with stainless steel counter or sink for their end user. Besides, our new line-up DID (drop-in-deck) type of JS15 sink is increasing in sales volume for the renovation market including for the renaissance of old folk houses, because the new DID sink (top-mount type) can be easily installed over almost all kinds of existent counters.

 

In addition to Hong Kong, we know that you have distributors in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, but going forward, what other countries or regions have you identified as key to the future growth of your firm?

We are not a major company in size, so we would like to take overseas expansion step-by-step. Last year we got in touch with a Thailand user and have captured the opportunity to exhibit our JS15 sinks in its showroom. From the standpoint of population size and remarkable economic growth, we are interested in Indonesia and India. Additionally, we feel some possibility to Australia where recently Japanese housing makers have been active. However, to be very honest, for the time being, our priority market is Vietnam where many major companies including Apple have extended activity there.

At the same time treasuring and strengthening our domestic market is important. We have business with around 100 kitchen makers including TOTO, Panasonic, and many original kitchen manufacturers, and as above, we also have many other home page users. As you mentioned, new housing demand has been decreasing, while the demand for renovations is increasing. Besides the steady demand of large-scale collective housing and industrial building exists. It is also important for us to take dispersion of risk into consideration.

 

Imagine that we came back in ten years and had this interview all over again. What goals or dreams do you hope to achieve by the time we come back for that new interview?

Currently, we are discussing the vision for the long term. Of course, under the obscure economic circumstances, it isn’t easy for us to foresee our future figures. We are a kitchen counter and sink manufacturer which operates various heavy machinery, so in order to keep up our capacity of the factory, a certain amount of kitchen counter and sink production orders is necessary. Securing those orders from customers in the shrinking market is crucial in this regard.

However, the Shigeru Industry business has 2 lateral faces. One is a stainless-steel kitchen manufacturer, while the other is a metal press manufacturer. From now on, if the market of residence is decreasing continuously, our business might be shifted to big-size metal processing for different fields. A few years ago, we developed the JS15 sink made from titanium. Only one titanium sink was adopted for the VIP restaurant of a famous Japanese company. But it is too expensive to be applied to general kitchen use, and we have not yet found out its repeated demand. At some future day, it might be applied to the residence on Mars.

As the president of Shigeru Industry, I must contemplate which path the company should take and what developments we should focus on. As a sink and kitchen counter manufacturer, I believe that a hybrid B2B and B2C approach is the straight direction for expanding our business operations not only domestically but also overseas. Gaining a reputation as a stable supplier of these fundamental components in housing is something that I think is paramount for the future success of our company. We would like to share Shigeru’s pride with all our employees, creating a work environment that is not only efficient but also comfortable and enjoyable and a good relationship with partners and customers.


Interview conducted by Karune Walker and Jaime De Andres

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