West Midlands Engineering Firms Probe Japan Market

19 November 2014

UKTI Shropshire organised a trade mission to Japan for seven advanced engineering companies based in the West Midlands. Read on for their insights into the Japanese market and the benefits of attending a trade mission.

Seven advanced engineering companies based in the West Midlands spent a week holding discussions with potential Japanese partners and customers in early November, part of a programme organised by the UKTI team based at the Shropshire Chamber of Commerce.

The first two days of the visit coincided with The 27th Japan International Machine Tool Fair, the largest event of its kind in the country, with members of the British delegation able to experience for themselves the technology that is available in Japan.

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“I think they were impressed by the level of technology that was on display,” said Richard Smith, international trade adviser for UKTI. “For some of them, it was certainly both a powerful and productive event.”

Other companies arrived in Japan with the intention of forging links with distributors, but the key was that they all came with some sort of unique selling proposition,” he said.

Japan is already a mature market that is famous for its advanced technology, Smith added, but the successes of many of the companies taking part in the mission demonstrates that “there are opportunities here for British firms if they have a USP and if the product is not already available here.”

“These companies are all very bright and have something to offer, so I am very hopeful that we will soon have some good news, in the shape of firm orders, that will represent business wins,” he added.

Filtermist International, Ltd.
Chris Harper, Business Development Manager

Dynamic Tools Corp.
Tomoki Kato, Senior Manager

“Japan is a priority market for us and we see huge potential here. There is business worth billions of dollars going on in here and we very much want to be part of that.

“We have worked with the same distributor in Japan for 20 years, they are a valued partner and that is one of the reasons we have come on this trade mission. We really do not seem them solely as a distributor for our products; they are our partners and we take every opportunity to come here and meet with them.

“Our products are better than a lot of Japanese brands, but we have found hurdles getting into the market, primarily cultural, although there is a lot of loyalty among firms here to their existing suppliers.

“For us, the next step is to identify new contacts and to generate new business.

“We have already had a lot of support from the UKTI team and we want to push on with them and hopefully get to the next level in Japan. For us, it’s very exciting.”

Grainger & Worrall, Ltd.
Charlie Bamber, Business Development Manager – Asia

“Around 55 percent of what we do at present is exported and we sell to Germany, so that must mean there are opportunities for us here in Japan as well.

“China accounts for about 13 percent of our turnover but it’s low in Japan at the moment, although we are hopeful we can build our presence here.

“We already have quite a significant contract from a Japanese manufacturer that came to us through our US counterparts, but now we are setting targets for our business here over the next five years.

“UKTI has been a big help in organising direct market access around the world and once again they have set up high-level contacts at top Japanese auto companies here. For us to even try to do that would have taken much longer and been much more complicated.

“In the space of two years we have taken two Mandarin speakers into our six-strong team to deal with the Chinese market. I can see a lot of opportunities in Japan and I can see us requiring a similar sort of capability in the future.”

Genvolt, Ltd.
Stuart Morgan, Managing Director

“Even though we export to quite a lot of markets already, this is our first visit to Japan. We are looking at the trip as an exploratory visit, to see if our products would sell here.

“I was at the JIMTOF show I have had meetings with companies that are similar to ours and design and manufacture high-voltage power supplies to see if we might be able to reach some sort of reciprocal agreement.

“The problem for us is that Japan is already a mature market and there are already high-end power supplies here, so we will be competing with companies that are already established, but the meetings I have had all seemed to go well and we’ve started by exchanging some literature.

“For us, at this point, it’s all about making the connections, building confidence, exchanging details and, hopefully, making a breakthrough in the future.”

HCI Systems, Ltd.
Michael Tickner, Technical Director

“I had four meetings set up before I arrived and they have been the prime focuse of my time here. I mean to leave at the end of the week with a minimum of four orders.

“Of the two meetings I have already had, both have been very positive, we have already received a quote for a project and I’m confident the remaining meetings will also go well.

“We are a relatively new company – we have only been around for two years – but we have quickly become known in certain motorsport markets and now we want to use this trip to enhance our push into new areas.

“I’ve talked to people who say that the Japanese motorsport market is shrinking, but the people that I have been able so speak with here say the opposite and that they are racing in more markets than before and they are interested in finding companies that can offer them new technology, which is an opportunity for us.

“We did our homework before I came to Japan so I knew who I wanted to see and I had to capitalise on the time we have here, but the UKTI team here have been excellent in setting things up and generally making the trip easier for us.”

Phoenix Calibration & Services, Ltd.
Vicki Wilkes, Managing Director

“I went on the UKTI’s culture training course and I read up on Japan before I came, so it was not such a surprise to me when I arrived – but there are so many subtleties in doing business and it’s so different to Europe that it can be a challenge.

“At present, we do not have a presence in Japan, but we believe our materials testing technology and equipment has potential here, particularly in the pharmaceuticals market.

“I have had four meetings with Japanese machinery companies so far, they have all been really positive and they can see the benefits of our compaction simulator for pharmaceutical production lines. They all asked lots of questions and the response has actually been more positive than I had been expecting.

“This is capital equipment so a company would only need one unit, but there are a lot of companies in this sector in Japan so that is a large potential market for us. We are a small engineering company, so this could mean significant growth for us.

“We always knew that the Japanese market was here and had potential, but without this trade mission it would have taken me three or four more years to pluck up the courage to come over. If this takes off for our company, it would not have been possible without the UKTI trade mission.”

Midland Alloy, Ltd.
James Beirne, Technical Sales Manager

“The language barrier has been a bit difficult, but I had an excellent UKTI interpreter when I visited the JIMTOF trade show and she was very proactive in finding companies and products that I was interested in. It was a very educational show, but it would not have been half as impressive without the interpreter’s help.

“I’ve also learned that a lot of business in Japan is based on building long-term relationships; we are just starting on that right now but I’m hoping that we will be able to work together with some of these companies as we go forward.

“Japanese companies and consumers pay a great deal of attention to detail and reputation and commitment to quality is paramount.

“I think that by doing business with Japanese companies, we will improve our own company and I think the potential of the market here is excellent for us.”


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Article by Julian Ryall, November 2014