Consumer gripes ‘commercialized’ into unique goods

by Makoto Tai

Kyodo

The Fukui Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the city of Fukui has been heeding consumer complaints with a view to developing their ideas into attractive products. Examples include umbrellas that repel more rainwater to protect clothing, eye glasses that shine in the dark for easy recognition and shoes with nonslip soles.

Chamber officials said many of the complaints they receive contain the seeds of good ideas that could be developed to meet consumer needs, and hope financing new products resulting from such complaints helps stimulate local industries.

Last October, the city held its “Complaint and Claim Resolution Exhibition” and displayed about 30 newly developed products, with the “Nurenza” (stay dry) umbrella that absorbs less water proving particularly popular.

Fukui Yougasa Co., a member of the chamber, had been struck by one complaint to the chamber that said, “I’ve had problems because of the water from a wet umbrella getting on my clothes.”

There are already umbrellas on the market with a water-repellent chemical finish, but the effect does not last long, so the company studied the matter for around a year and found that the water-repellent effect lasts much longer if special polyester is used as a fabric.

The umbrella produced is priced at about ¥30,000, but 5,000 units have already been sold since they were put on the market in 2005.

Toyota Motor Corp. has also adopted the polyester as an accessory for its high-end Lexus car. Fukui Yougasa President Heikichi Hashimoto said, “The complaint reminded us to think from the consumer’s point of view.”

Sasamata Co. of Sabae, Fukui Prefecture, has developed Coco-Pad, a light-storing nose pad that makes it easy to spot eyeglasses, by mixing luminiferous powder in a pad.

Uchida Nenshi Co. of Fukui has marketed a textile with natural rubber string woven into it for making shoes that will not slip on snow-covered roads, and Hioki Corp., a vinyl producer in Mizuho, Gifu Prefecture, has developed a double-ring swimming ring that has a spare inner tube inside the outer tube.

The chamber began thinking about complaints in this way in June 2003, and now puts such complaints from consumers on its Web site.

The chamber started such activities after Hiromasa Shimada, its industrial technology section chief in charge of supporting new product development, visited a small enterprise and was told by its president, “The chamber does nothing except collect membership fees.”

This prompted Shimada to review his section’s work practices and he finally hit upon the idea of “commercializing complaints.”