28 September 2022

Takara Belmont: global success against all odds

In 1921 in Japan, an ambitious young man with a vision acquired a foundry. This was the birth of Takara Belmont. The rest is history!

Takara Belmont, over the past one hundred years, has become a global success against all odds. Indeed, in the early twentieth century, in Japan, a teenager named Hidenobu Yoshikawa became an apprenticeship in a foundry. The art of casting appealed to him immediately. “You can freely make any shape you want,” he realized. More importantly, he decided, “I think I can do this myself!”. So in 1921, Hidenobu acquired a foundry that was in financial difficulty. This was the birth of Takara Belmont in Osaka, where the current factory is still located. At the time of its founding, the company produced manhole covers, grids, and other cast iron parts. But Hidenobu’s sights were set on manufacturing something more integral and interesting.

One of the company’s core products were cast parts to be used in barber chairs. The demand for these parts alone continued to increase steadily, so the next logical step was to start producing finished chairs instead of only parts. However, at that time, there were 17 barber chair manufacturers in Osaka alone. This meant that there would be ruthless competition. But Yoshikawa was up to the challenge!

The branding of Ebisu’s chair

The timing could not have been more perfect. Competition was fierce and, indeed, new manufacturers were often turned away. Therefore, on January 10, 1932, in order to increase brand recognition, Yoshikawa arranged barber chairs along the route of the festival of Imamiya Ebisu Shrine (Osaka). “Toka Ebisu” is a festival held on the 10th of the New Year (January) every year in veneration of Ebisu, one of the “Seven Lucky Gods”. He is revered as a god of prosperous enterprise. Many participants in the procession, some of whom were barbers themselves, were surprised to see barber chairs and pleased to have such an opportunity to try them out first hand. And the association with Ebisu would bring prosperity to the shop owner as well.

Breaking into the US market

With the end of the war in 1945, Takara Belmont succeeded in restarting manufacturing ahead of other companies during the postwar reconstruction. With the surge of the economic boom that initiated around 1950 the company was able to expand its sales channels steadily. Globalism was decades off, but it became obvious that there were outstanding opportunities to be had in overseas markets.

Quality products are always in demand worldwide, regardless of country, language, and tradition. At that time, the United States was the world’s largest consumer and hence a potentially strong market. It was decided to try to break the ice by exhibiting 24 barber chairs at the “International Trade Fair” held in Seattle in 1955. Although the quality was inferior to that of local products, they all sold locally. Encouraged by this initial success, just a year later, the founder established a local subsidiary: “Takara Company New York” on Fifth Avenue in New York. The company had its proverbial “foot in the door”. But it was a daunting challenge. At that time, the barber market in the United States was controlled by two major manufacturers, making it extremely difficult to penetrate.

Ingenuity and determination

It was a rough start. There were many problems with the chairs that had already been installed, including defects due to manufacturing technology. Moreover, clients complained about the fading and discoloration of the leather seating. Takara Belmont service personnel promptly visited these salons, armed only with their enthusiasm and willingness to diligently solve each and every problem at hand. But more importantly, all of them were determined transform each failure into an opportunity for improvement.

Indeed, the focus turned to redesigning the structure and striving to find better quality leather materials. Gradually, the reputation of Takara Belmont quality grew with the launch of every new model. Then, in 1969, the company acquired Koken Inc. (currently Koken Manufacturing Co., Inc.)., one of two major manufacturers of beauty and dental products in the United States.

Takara Belmont: pioneering in globalization

Mr. Hidetaka Yoshikawa, Takara Belmont Chairman & CEO

Every year that we’ve been in business,” observes Hidetaka Yoshikawa, Takara Belmont Chairman & CEO, “we have aimed to acknowledge, reflect, and improve our products, technology and manufacturing techniques. We try to innovate to meet current needs and desires, as well as anticipate the future demands of our customers.

Hidetaka Yoshikawa, continues, “The company’s current form, which would have been unimaginable when it was founded, is the result of our determination to overcome numerous challenges. Over the past 100 years, we have embarked on various businesses ventures. Today we continue to value our competitive and pioneering spirit. We are committed to remaining a company that is a leader on global market.”

The Takara Belmont tradition of ongoing commitment to innovation continues. Follow this space for more about the evolution of Takara Belmont over its one-hundred year history.

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