Terrie's Take 952 - Hello Kitty in Free-fall, Who's Going to Save Her? E-biz news from Japan.
terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Jul 9 11:03:39 JST 2018
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd, a long-term
technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
General Edition Sunday, Jul 08, 2018, Issue No. 952
- What's New -- Hello Kitty in Free-fall, Who's Going to Save Her?
- News -- Tax revenues are back!
- Upcoming Events
- Travel Picks -- Italian in Mori Town (Tokyo), 100 Lakes in Goshikinuma
- News Credits
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+++ WHAT'S NEW
Hello Kitty in Free-fall, Who's Going to Save Her?
Last Saturday, while the storm clouds were still gathering over the
Chugoku region, a Hello Kitty-themed bullet train left Hakata station in
Fukuoka, bound for Osaka. The specially wrapped pink and white
shinkansen was the latest collaboration between JR West, which is always
struggling to find ways to get more people to travel southwards to
Kyushu, and Sanrio, the equally struggling owner of the famous feline
character. The train was waved off by about 400 fans and will run for
the next three months on the JR West lines.
Hmmm, only 400 people? That's less than will fit on 1/3 of a full-length
Shinkansen and certainly a lot less than would have been drawn to such
an event back in the 1990's. In days gone by, we could have expected the
entire train to be packed with fans, and for Sanrio to be tied up with
JTB to bring in adoring ladies from East Asia, given that foreign
tourists are currently the main customer base for Hello Kitty
merchandise. Instead, the smallish crowd, along with the limited time
the character will be running on the train, both point to the general
decline that Sanrio is experiencing with its cornerstone character.
Up until recently, Hello Kitty has been an amazing phenomenon. Although
Sanrio has milked the character every which way, including anime and
gaming, the main income for the company has been the licensing of static
images of Kitty, which speaks to the subtle but powerful emotional
reactions she invokes in mostly female fans around the world. As a
lecturer at Oxford University on Japanese sociology, Dr. Sharon
Kinsella, says, Hello Kitty is a "...small, soft, infantile, mammalian,
round, without bodily appendages [Ed: well, she does have some arms],
without bodily orifices (mouths), non-sexual, mute, insecure, helpless
or bewildered..." character. Later, she also referred to Kitty as "a bit
farcical" and "a dumbed-down cultural icon" - but let's ignore that.
Just how big is the Hello Kitty money machine?
[Article continued below...]
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Well, after nearly 40 years after her creation, the cat who is really a
be-whiskered pre-teen British girl named Kitty White (yes, really,
according to Sanrio), has been responsible for most of Sanrio's JPY60bn
(about US$5.5bn) in sales last year. A good slice of the profit,
although only 20% of the company's income, is derived from Hello Kitty
licenses to more than 3,000 overseas firms producing 50,000-plus
products in 70-plus countries. Unfortunately, FY2017 sales are down 20%
from 3 years ago, and profits have also dropped 26% y-o-y to JPY4.8bn
(US$42.6m). To be fair, some of that profit drop was because of a
disagreement with Japanese Tax Office over previous years of accounting,
which led to some stiff penalties.
About the only person in the Sanrio hemisphere who hasn't been making
money out of Hello Kitty is the original designer, Yuko Shimizu, who is
now 72. Shimizu joined Sanrio in the mid-1960's and created Hello Kitty
in 1974. Paid just the salary she earned at the time, she left Sanrio in
1976 to get married, Hello Kitty went on to make tens of billions of
dollars for the Tsuji family. This situation is of course not unusual in
Japanese firms and may in fact be one reason why Sanrio keeps scratching
around for another character to expand its empire on - no one with
sufficient talent is interested in working with/for them.
Hello Kitty is licensed pretty much everywhere and on everything.
Although nominally a child's character, since it represents innocence
and neutrality, at least two generations of moms have grown up with
Kitty and so the character not only appears on diapers and kids bathroom
products, but also on jewelry, designer bags, automobile tires and
engine lubricant, wine, cafes and food products, vibrators, and she even
poses in the nude for some mushroom growers. It seems that there isn't
anywhere or anything that Sanrio won't license Kitty for.
This of course is one of the biggest issues confronting Sanrio. How to
milk the character for profits, while at the same time not diluting the
brand to such an extent that people get bored of it. The company has
been incredibly lucky up until now. A mixture of generational and
regional awakenings of younger female consumers, have been enough to
help the company get to where it is today.
In the 1970's the original target was kids and moms with young kids. The
1980's Sanrio struggled a bit, then in the 1990's the kids who'd grown
into moms rediscovered the character and revived its fortunes. At the
same time, Kitty was "discovered" by American celebrities and suddenly
became all the rage in the West. More recently, Kitty is being adored by
an East-Asian audience (particularly China), which is responding with
the same gusto that Japan did right back at the start. Currently, Kitty
has 13,293,040 likes on Facebook, and 12,911,446 people are following her.
Yeah, so she's quite a phenomenon. But her luster is fading, especially
at home. According to Tokyo-based Character Databank, in Japan's
JPY1.56trn character licensing marketplace Hello Kitty is now only the
fourth most popular character, coming in after Anpanman, the bean
paste-filled bread superhero, Mickey Mouse, and Snoopy. Smaller rival
companies are also becoming a threat, such as a competing stationery
maker San-X, which has had two big hits with its Tarepanda panda bear
character, and Rilakkuma brown bear character. Looking at these
characters, they should really have come from Sanrio's own design studios.
So what can Sanrio do to turn the boat around?
In their latest IR materials, they lay out a 3-year plan that looks
remarkably like what they have been trying to do over the last 10 years
- which isn't a good sign, although the elements of the plan are at
least logical. A shortened list is:
* Re-energize Hello Kitty
* Invest in strategic marketing to nurture secondary characters beyond
* Establish a strategic animation and game business within Sanrio
* Create animation and game-based content; restructure content-related
* Focus on China as a growth market; restructure in the Americas and
enact growth measures in Europe
Reading through this, it's obvious that Sanrio's management have decided
they need to strike out to become a competitor to Disney. While this is
understandable given that market share-wise Mickey is eating Kitty's
lunch, one wonders if a "non-sexual, mute, insecure, helpless and
bewildered" Kitty is really capable of taking on a smart-mouthed mouse
and a host of other challengers with much-better developed personalities
It seems obvious to us that Sanrio has two serious deficits, which we
put down to management ossification and salaryman thinking at the top of
the company. Firstly, they need to open their coffers and pay for actual
talent to come up with new characters that can repeat the Kitty market
impact. If they can't breed or borrow these people, then Sanrio should
do something a bit dramatic, like trying to buy out San-x or a similar
Secondly, it's a far cry for the company to try to take on Disney, and
if they are really serious about doing so, then the foray should be in
stages, starting with online assets - something that Sanrio is weak at
monetizing and needs to "get" fast. Again, a good way of doing this
would be to buy out a rising but still small online games company. On
the other hand, trying to put out Hello Kitty feature anime movies would
probably break the company.
Lastly, the company needs a top management shakeup. Although the
founding family had the right instincts historically, firstly with
developing the character then later in the second generation with the
overseas licensing business, it's clear that the family members at the
helm of the firm now are just not up to the challenge. The company's
sales and profits are in free fall, and at the current pace of
disintegration, the company will start experiencing financial
difficulties within the next 3-5 years. They need to have the confidence
to bring in someone accomplished in the branding industry to lead the
company out of trouble, much as Sony did (although it had to have
several tries to get things right).
...The information janitors/
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- Tax revenues are back!
- But the GPIF loses a chunk as well
- Crypto server firms moving to Fukui
- What happens to all the trash?
- Advantage Partners finds new deal flow
=> Tax revenues are back!
The government must be sighing a breath of relief that the nation's
FY2017 tax take has surged to a 26-year high, hitting JPY58,787bn.
Perhaps most interesting of the tax results has been the amounts raised
in each of the three major categories. These were: Income Tax of
JPY18,881.5bn, Corporate Tax of JPY11,995.3bn, and Consumption Tax of
JPY17,513.8bn. ***Ed: Remember when there was no consumption tax? It's
no wonder the government wants to up it another fifth to 10%.** (Source:
TT commentary from the-japan-news.com, Jul 06, 2018)
=> But the GPIF loses a chunk as well
The government may be raking in the taxes, but it has a leaky gasket -
in the form of the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), which is
the world's largest pension fund. Apparently the GPIF lost JPY5.5trn
mostly on foreign stocks in the first quarter of fiscal 2018. The losses
have been exacerbated recently by fears of a trade war between the Trump
administration in the US, and China. ***Ed: The GPIF is about 49%
invested in stocks, and just under half are in foreign companies listed
overseas. Foreign stock movements - you really have to stay on top of
them - something the GPIF hasn't proven itself terribly adept at yet.**
(Source: TT commentary from reuters.com, Jul 06, 2018)
=> Crypto server firms moving to Fukui
What does Fukui city, located in a rather remote part of western Japan,
have that other cities don't? The answer is cheap industrial electricity
and reduced factory rents, which apparently is drawing a number of
cryptocurrency miners and their thousands of servers. The city
apparently covers about 50% of rent on refurbished factories and don't
care how the electricity is being used. ***Ed: The downside? All that
cheap electricity comes from a nuclear power plant at Oi, just 30km (as
the crow flies) SE of Fukui city...!** (Source: TT commentary from
ccn.com, Jul 07, 2018)
=> What happens to all the trash?
Now that the Chinese government has throttled exports of trash from
other countries to China for re-processing, Japan apparently is faced
with a growing mountain of plastic and other domestic recyclable waste.
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, prior to the Chinese government
restrictions about 510,000 tons of plastic waste was sent to China each
year, but now that number has fallen to just 30,000 tons. Local
authorities here are scrambling to set up the equipment needed to
recycle in this country - something that hasn't been considered until
now. ***Ed: If Tokyo can ban smoking, why not ban use of plastic bags at
supermarkets, or at least charge a high price for each one? That would
soon encourage frugal consumers to pack their own reusable bags.**
(Source: TT commentary from scmp.com, Jul 04, 2018)
=> Advantage Partners finds new deal flow
Interesting article/interview in the Bloomberg site about Advantage
Partners and one of its founders, Taisuke Sasanuma. The article centers
on the fact that Advantage has found a new source of smaller buy-out
deals, by targeting younger serial entrepreneurs. As a result,
apparently Advantage has raised about JPY406bn and invested into 71
companies. The article covers a number of acquisitions where the
original founder came back to re-purchase the business after a spell
under Advantage. ***Ed: What's particularly interesting is the trend
where Japanese serial entrepreneurs are starting to think of their
companies as assets rather than family members. And thus, selling and
re-purchasing them becomes a business activity with the usual logic of
profit and loss - rather than an emotionally loaded activity that causes
most Japanese business owners become enmeshed in go down with their
business as they get aged and less capable.** (Source: TT commentary
from bloomberg.com, Jul 04, 2018)
NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days of
posting them, thus breaking our links -- we apologize for the inconvenience.
+++ UPCOMING EVENTS
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Speaker: Terrie Lloyd - CEO Japan Travel K.K. and Metroworks K.K.
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+++ TRAVEL DESTINATIONS PICKS
=> Cafe Bar Foret in Mori Town, Tokyo (Akishima)
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Cafe Bar Foret, like the other restaurants in the country has a very
pleasant ambience. And while it is labelled Italian, it appeared more
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Stroll along rainbow hued lakes
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the "Five Colored Ponds". Famous for their intense color, ranging from
emerald green to deep cobalt blue, their sight will surely leave you
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+++ ABOUT US
Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)
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