Experience and Innovative Thinking – A New Hope for Japan’s Family Businesses

Family businesses in Japan are keen on reinventing themselves and grasping new opportunities

Recruiting License in Japan

There are more and more rising startup stars in Japan, especially so ever since the Japanese Government extended the startup visa program and began supporting foreign entrepreneurs. A great number of businessmen from abroad keep flocking to Japan to get a taste of the country’s lucrative business opportunities and make a real profit. However, quite a lot of Japanese entrepreneurs are not starting a new business, but rather reinventing their family businesses.

While many choose to follow in their family’s footsteps and continue the tradition of operating their inherited family business in the same way, others decide to bring innovation to the table and pave the way to completely new horizons.

Chie Yamano, the chief producer at Osaka Innovation Hub, a business incubator for entrepreneurs and engineers, said: “Business succession often has a negative image among young generations”. It is very common that a son who inherits his father’s company doesn’t have enough ambition to continue the family tradition, nor is he qualified enough to do so. Therefore, when he does take over, he usually doesn’t invest much effort in the company.

However, that’s not always the case, of course. As Chie Yamano also said, there are “many successors who are breaking new ground and reinventing their companies, like entrepreneurs.”

With that in mind, we observed the success stories of three reinvented Japanese family businesses.

Smartvalue, From Auto Repair to Cloud SolutionsSmartvalue – From Auto Repair to Cloud Solutions

Smartvalue, established back in 1928, used to be an auto repair shop in Sakai, Osaka. The company has gone a long way from repairing cars, as it now provides cloud and mobile solutions for the specific needs of several industries.

As soon as Jun Shibuya took over the company from his father in 2012, when Smartvalue was not really strong enough to make it on the market, he started offering cloud solutions to various businesses. Smartvalue now provides cloud information services to local governments and public institutions to help them prepare for disasters, prevent crime, improve PR and employment, improve childcare, address issues in commerce and tourism, and protect the environment. The company also provides on-premise cloud platforms designed for specific businesses’ needs.

“We had established relationships with a wide range of companies before I took over, and they made us what we are today,” Shibuya said. Smartvalue started collaborating with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT), a Japanese telecommunications company, way before Shibuya inherited it. Their collaboration was all about car phones installations before NTT suggested that Smartvalue should start selling mobile handsets. That was exactly the step that enabled Smartvalue to start providing cloud information services and springboard its business to success.

“In addition to the customer trust built up by my predecessors, we also have an advantage over startups when it comes to moving quickly on investments and selecting new business areas,” Shibuya said.

Apart from cloud information services and smartphones, Smartvalue now also provides a mobility cloud solution for driving safely, and it will soon expand it into a mobility IoT platform that will have a great number of other applications.

Quite a lot of Japanese entrepreneurs are not starting a new business, but rather reinventing their family businesses.

Airweave, From Fishing Lines to Revolutionizing Sleep

Airweave – From Fishing Lines to Revolutionizing Sleep

Airweave was a fishing line company in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture in central Honshu Island. It was manufacturing weaving machines for fishing nets, which hadn’t been bringing sustainable business to the company for a long time.

That’s why Motokuni Takaoka, the founder and CEO of Airweave, drastically transformed the company when he took over from his uncle in 2004. He was thinking about what he could do to reinvent the company and turn it into a profitable one, when he noticed that the resin fiber the company used to make fishing lines was very resilient. That’s when it hit him – using that material to manufacture top-quality mattresses that will revolutionize the way we sleep.

Airweave now provides various types of mattresses, mattress toppers, cushions and pillows made up entirely of the company’s proprietary airfiber, which means neither foam nor springs.

With Takaoka’s innovative thinking and his huge focus on quality, Airweave is on a continual path to success, and it has even expanded to a wide range of travel, technology, and lifestyle sleep products, which a number of elite athletes and organizations around the world are using to improve performance.

Snow Peak, From Mountaineering Gear to Outdoor Lifestyle Products

Snow Peak – From Mountaineering Gear to Outdoor Lifestyle ProductsSnow Peak was a provider of mountaineering gear ever since its founding in 1958 by Yukio Yamai. His son Tohru Yamai, who now runs the company, took over the company back in 1980 and completely transformed it by switching the focus from providing only climbing gear to offering innovative camping equipment.

Snow Peak is now recognized all across the globe, helping camping enthusiasts enjoy the outdoors and reconnect with nature. That’s exactly the company’s mission: to bring people closer to nature and help them spend a wonderful time outdoors.

However, Snow Peak didn’t stop at camping equipment. In 2014, Yukio Yamai’s granddaughter, Lisa Yamai, launched an outdoor lifestyle apparel line, expanding the business even more and inspiring a whole new generation of outdoor enthusiasts.

Snow Peak has been listed in the Tokyo Stock Exchange since 2015, the goal of which was to inspire even more people to engage in camping and enjoy nature.

“Only 6.5% of Japanese go camping. That means 93.5% of the population are non-campers. The aim of our listing was to connect those 93.5% to nature,” Yamai said.

The company attracted a great number of camping enthusiasts by providing its camping cutlery and huts to a hotel in Kanagawa Prefecture, where guests could get a feel of the products first-hand and think about trying them out outdoors.

There are a staggering 1.2 million heirless businesses in Japan at risk of closure right now, which is precisely why they should be aware of the aforementioned and many other success stories of reinvented family businesses. They need to realize that inheritance and entrepreneurship can really create wonders. With just a bit of innovation and change, they could transform their family businesses and reach incredibly great heights.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Japan has always been a land of innovators and it will continue to uphold this tradition. 

What do you think?

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