We speak to Hidetaka Yoshikawa, Chairman and CEO of Takara Belmont, about his company’s 100-year history as well as his vision for the future
As the president of a company present in the Japanese wellness industry - how would you describe the Japanese culture when it comes to personal care and wellness?
I believe that the daily lifestyle and diet of Japan, for example Sushi and Sashimi (raw fish), is the contributing factor to good skin and hair. As a culture, Japanese people have a sense of detail; but it is a detail that is derived from research and explanation conducted from genuine devotion. This detail is applied in the development of cosmetics and hair products therefore making efforts to provide what is best for us and constantly progressing in pursuit of improvements and new innovations. This is my understanding of the basics of Japanese culture and its people. Such efforts are made from the bottom of our hearts and are the source of our continuous efforts to make improvements that are reflected in all of Japan’s industries, including automobiles, robotics and medical advancements.
This sense of detail was experienced last week in a Japanese/French Restaurant located in Paris. The Chef worked for the designer of Kenzo. His cuisine reflected not only the Japanese sense of detail in the presentation of the plate but also the food taste which is a thing of art; this culture is more than detail but a combination of detail and art that inspires your heart. This is not only applicable to Japan’s companies but its people; Japanese customers have great attention to detail. Through a process of trial and error, they try a variety of products and seek another option until they find a product they are satisfied with. As such Japanese customers have an excellent sense of finding quality products which in turn leads to the production of better cosmetics.
Takara Belmont was established over 100 years ago and has grown to where it is today – a market leader and number one in its field. Could you please lead us through your company’s history and the milestones that have led it to where it is today?
Our company was founded in 1921 and our history can be divided into two main eras: the period before WW2 and the period after WW2. In the first half of our history – before WW2 – we conducted business in metal casting – selling cast iron parts for barber chairs.
We then identified an opportunity for growth by manufacturing our own barber chairs we had a potential that selling parts alone did not provide. Later, we showcased our products at an exhibition in America which lead to our first steps into America in 1954. Our products proved to provide a buoyant market and the 1970's saw our products selling well in America. We were one of two or three companies in the same business and were shocked when the government were asked to sue our company - the reason given being that the other companies were concerned that their low prices would send them out of business. Fortunately, we had many supporters in the forms of friends and partners and we won the case; it partly caused one of the biggest companies was made bankrupt.
In 1969, we acquired a company called Koken; we wished to keep the former employees and the company name as well as keep the head-quarters in St Louise, America. This had the added benefit of earning us trust within the industry and gave us our first solid steps into the industry.
In 1970 the Expo 70 – a world fair – was held in Osaka, Japan, from mid-March till mid-September 1970. The exhibition, whose theme was Progress and Harmony for Mankind, was Japan’s showcase to the world and proof of its superior technological skills. We exhibited a pavilion which was another huge success and gave us the opportunity to advertise our global intentions, gaining global recognition. In the pavilion we made projections of what we envisaged the future of beauty salons to look like as well as kitchens and houses in general in the 21st century. It transpired that a part of the rooms actually materialized as capsule hotels and condominiums and this aided in our success.
Our journey into the cosmetic industry began in the late 1960s. In the middle of the 1960s we expanded into the dental and medical industries and started investing R&D into these areas. In these businesses we sold our products on a B2B basis which assisted in stabilizing the company.
Initially the cosmetic industry we were engaged in was mainly in production of hair products for professionals and this later expanded into the skin care and nail polish. We are basically helping the professionals, for example doctors, dentists and hairdressers.
Takara Belmont arrived in New York in 1956, followed by Toronto in 1966 and Paris in 1967. Our involvement in the beauty industry has always been viewed as how to make the industry better as a whole – the reason being the better the industry becomes, the better our products will sell. Our stance is very much to work as a team and through conducting seminars we provide care for the professionals resulting in our mutual success.
Could you explain the philosophies behind TAKARA BELMONT? What are the services you offer to this industry that contribute to your progress and innovations?
We have been a constant innovator of new technologies, increasing the service that Hair Stylists provide as well as their technical skills. This is the service we provide. Our new technologies allow hairdressers to offer more services in turn, to their customers, thereby increasing the potential spend per client. For example, the Rollerball gives them the opportunity to sell its merits and offer the service for an additional 10 euros. By recommending new technologies to our customers they can realistically use their imagination to make any additions they want to their business. Our shampoo chairs were specifically designed so that hairdressers did not have to bend over, saving back strain. This is the origins of Headspa; allowing people to get a shampoo whilst relaxing in a sleep like state. This has become quite mainstream. The Hair Salons of the past saw customers having to bend down to be shampooed and hairdressers were always hurting their back from bending down. The provision of better work environments through technology allows healthier workers and customers. Being a hairdresser is a lifetime business, it is not like being an employee of a company – you can be a hairdresser for your entire working life so technologies help hairdressers continue their business for as long as wish.
The sense of innovation is a recurring theme in your company, you constantly bring new technologies for the advancement of the industry. Looking at the future and your ten-year plan, what new technologies are you currently working on? How do you perceive the future of TAKARA BELMONT?
Although we are not in a position to disclose new technologies we can advise that we see the future of the industry to include the Shampoo Robot, which was first launched in 1975. Since then the first-generation robot was relaunched in 1993 and has continually been improved. The Shampoo Robot holds fantastic potential and assists salons such as Papa Mama which only have one stylist. The role of hairdressers is very energy consuming, the Shampoo Robot helps save stylists energy and can perhaps extend their work by ten years by allowing them to use the time saved for other appointments. Japan is an aging country and solutions such as these will be essential for the industry's future.
We see two phases for the future. The first is to provide ultimate relaxation for customers. The second phase is to provide hairdressers with the ultimate execution of their techniques for example using Artificial Intelligence, so they may perform at their best for the satisfaction of their customers.
What is TAKARA BELMONT able to give the United States that is not currently available to them and what gives you the competitive advantage over competition?
Our services are popular in the United States within high end salons. We can provide them with a different type of uniqueness and processes; such as Rollerball which is exclusive to us. There are copy products but they do not match our quality. The middle-class salons; however, have been satisfied with basic parts since the 1980’s and as such are a more difficult market for us to enter. However, they are coming back to our professional products and valuing their quality and the long service they can provide. In order to try to compete in the middle-class salon sector we have hosted Headspa demonstrations in efforts to show our value. The dimension is very much different than before the 1980's with smaller dealers being acquired by other dealers and mega dealers are constantly growing. The beauty professional systems are using dealers and because of the different dynamic we have been focusing on B2B sales direct to Salons and this is the challenge we are currently meeting in the American market. One of our weak points could be said to be that we have very little advertising contact with the small and medium size salons in America.
You belong to the third generation of TAKARA BELMONT Presidents. Is there a particular objective you would like to reach before passing the presidency on to the fourth generation? What would you like your legacy to be?
We have been equal partners with the industry for one hundred years and, as such, value the importance of cherishing the industry. Our philosophy is to offer the best possible services and technologies to our clients. Our motivation is not just concerned with profits, but more to contribute to the prosperity of the industry and clients and this is something we believe is our destiny. We want to provide professionals with the best skills and techniques through R&D so they can offer their clients the best services in cosmetics, beauty equipment or other salon environment service offerings, in return.