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Eyeglass technology for the society of tomorrow

Interview - June 26, 2023

Leveraging decades of experience as an eye glass wholesaler, Aigan’s unique and smart designs continue to wow customers in Japan and abroad.

MICHIO SHIMOJO, PRESIDENT & REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR OF AIGAN CO., LTD.
MICHIO SHIMOJO | PRESIDENT & REPRESENTATIVE DIRECTOR OF AIGAN CO., LTD.

Could you give us an overview of your business?

We started our business as a wholesaler of eyeglasses for retailers nationwide. After designing and planning the products, we ordered them from an eyeglass manufacturer in Fukui Prefecture and sold them as our original brand to retailers from Hokkaido to Kyushu. We then sold them as our original brand to retailers from Hokkaido to Kyushu. While engaged in the wholesale business, we were concerned about the low level of eyeglass sales technology in retail stores at that time, In the 1960s, he opened his own retail store with a showroom in a corner of the company. He offered the knowledge and skills he gained from his experience to each retailer as advice and training along with his products. The knowledge and skills gained from this experience were provided to each retailer along with products as advice and training. In the 1960s, the concept of shopping centers was introduced to Japan from the United States. In 1964, Daiei opened its first retail store in Daiei under its current name "Megane no Aigan”. It was a pilot project, but the result was a great success. Later, as Daiei expanded its shopping center business nationwide, we opened more stores and evolved as a retailer.



What advantages does your background as a wholesaler give your retailing business compared to competitors like JINS who were never in wholesale?

While other companies purchase ready-made products, our greatest strength is our ability to design and plan eyeglasses. Our experience as a wholesaler has enabled us to offer a wide variety of private brands.
 

Japan has perhaps the world’s oldest society, posing a lot of different interesting challenges and opportunities for the eyewear market. On one hand, glasses can be a very powerful tool to combat some of the visual degenerative conditions that come with age, like presbyopia or myopia. On the other hand, as you have fewer people, there are also fewer customers who need eyeglasses. What are some of the challenges and opportunities, as well as the overall impact of Japan's aging population for your business?

Japan's aging population with its low fertility rate has been a problem, and we cannot tackle this social issue on our own. There is an increasing number of the senior generation. It was announced yesterday that 29% of Japan's population is over 65 years old. We are introducing a new scheme in this business. Conventionally, only single lenses were prevalent on the market, but we are now trying to promote multipurpose lenses like progressive lenses and lenses that cater to both nearsightedness and farsightedness. People prefer more comfortable lenses that enhance their life experience. These types of lenses are our focus.

Since six years ago, we have been focusing on the senior generation and providing new types of glasses to prevent glaucoma and cataract. We were the very first company to launch this type of protective eyeglasses for seniors, and we were the only ones who had this idea. (We had the sole agreement.) It is now widely used in the majority of retail stores.



These visual degenerative conditions are not only impacting the elderly. In this age, there is a serious epidemic, especially of myopia affecting the younger generation, particularly in advanced societies. In our previous interview with Seed, we learned that 70% of teenagers entering high school this past April in Japan are estimated to be myopic. While myopia can be mostly a minor inconvenience in its early stages, it can develop over the years into some serious degenerative conditions and medical issues. How can eyeglasses as a tool help curb the prevalence of myopia in young people?

While treating myopia is the job of the physician, we too can play a role by providing appropriate lenses that reduce the strain on the user's eyes. Ultraviolet radiation is known to be harmful to the eyes. With the discovery of ozone holes in the Arctic and Antarctic, cases of cataracts are increasing in those regions. In collaboration with Tokai Kogaku, a Japanese lens manufacturer, we have developed UV420 lenses that prevent ultraviolet rays from entering the eye. We also developed an anti-glare lens for driving much earlier than other companies and named it Wizdrive. While we cannot cure, we can try to mitigate myopia and other eye conditions (diseases) by providing lenses with a high degree of UV protection. (We will endeavor to alleviate this as much as possible.)

 

In recent years, you have expanded to offer retail services in new markets like China. Could you tell us more about the history and the challenges of expanding your business to a new market?

We started our Chinese business about 30 years ago, but it was discontinued, mainly due to COVID. We closed the stores there because of the lockdown and incidents there. With the development of the Chinese economy, the cost needed to keep the store in operation went up. The pandemic was the final push for us in deciding to close our store in China because it was already in the red.    

 

Do you have any plans to restart any kind of overseas operation?

My generation is primarily focused on the domestic market, so there will be no overseas expansion. However, there may be a possibility for that in the next generation. We are putting all our resources into restarting our business after the COVID pandemic, especially now that we can go back to normal. After establishing a strong base in Japan, then we can think about going overseas.

 

Imagine we come back in three years for your 85th anniversary as a company. What would you like to tell tourists who come to Japan about your glasses? What goals would you like to have accomplished for your company in three years?  

For inbound tourists with limited time, there may not be a high demand for eyeglasses because we need one or two days to have them ready from the day they are ordered. Tourists are more likely to purchase sunglasses or glasses off the shelf. We also have our branded products, such as Nekororin which is a pun based on the Japanese phrase “neko ga neteiru” means you can curl up and sleep (like a cat). We also have very light glasses can be used when taking a bath, even in a sauna, and will not fog up. Because we have a rich experience as a wholesaler, we can be very fast in realizing a good idea. These were  proposals from our employees.

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