Success Story: Keeling & Walker

Activities: Founded in the early 1900s, Keeling & Walker became a Limited Company in 1916, by which time it was a leading supplier of all types of ceramic materials, consumables, plant and equipment.
Size: Large
Target market:
Manufacturing of Tin Oxides, Functional pigments, Nanodispersions and Polymer additives
Interests in Japan:
Deepen the market penetration and establish contacts with key customers in Japan

WHY JAPAN?

We manufacture functional nanosized pigments for various applications in the polymer industry. Specifically we are producing Tin Oxide pigments and Infrared Absorbing Oxides.

The key markets for our products are mainly in the Far East. For example the solar control film manufacturing business in Europe is small and all major producers are located in Japan, Korea and China.

Moreover, the Japanese companies are technically the most advanced in this area therefore we need to be in Japan and introduce our products to them.

STEPS TAKEN

In 2017 we sold 40% more of our products (by volume) than in 2016. We also have several development projects running with Japanese customers and are currently shipping our first bigger trial order to a larger film maker.

In addition, we are working with 2 Japanese trading companies and are trying to establish a new connection with a third trading house that operates as a sourcing company for a large Japanese corporation.

NEXT STEPS

We need to take several steps to: (1) maintain continuous support of our existing relationships in order to secure the existing business we have in Japan; (2) increase the “visibility” of our company to show our long-term commitment to the market; (3) establish more contacts with important players and their trade channels in the market; (4) introduce new products.

CHALLENGES & RECOMMENDATIONS

The Japanese market is a complex challenge for a foreign company.  Ideally as a company you have a local representative with good knowledge of the language. At the beginning small companies cannot afford this, so the choice of the right partner to develop the business is a crucial step. Additionally your products need to be technically superior to the local competitors. You need to be prepared to give extensive technical service and show continuous commitment to your partners and the market. To establish yourself as an overseas supplier in a market which relies to a great extent on close relationships between local partners is the biggest challenge. 

Any advices for EU companies targeting Nanotech market in Japan?

Be prepared to supply lots of technical information down to a very detailed level. For European companies this seems like giving away their business secrets but if you are not prepared to do that, don´t even start in Japan.

Be prepared to play by Japanese rules. Don’t try European or American business rules because it does not fit with the Japanese culture or approach of doing business.

Interview made with Dr. Dieter Guhl, Managing Director of Keeling & Walker, Ltd - Nanotech mission 2016 & 2018 Alumni  (November 2018).

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