Japanese style headed this way

Monday, July 31, 2006

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. - Michael Morris has his fingers crossed that U.S. consumers take to Japanese home medical equipment just as they have to sushi and Toyota automobiles.
With his Osaka, Japan-based partner, Michinari Tsutsumi, Morris heads up the fledgling HME import-export business Hi5 Global. The company, which debuted at Medtrade last year, plans to attend this year's show with a host of Japanese designed products in tow. This year or next, it plans to begin distributing in the United States products such as a stylish rattan commode, bandanas, socks with finger holes for pulling on and off, and a mattress overlay.
In June, Hi5 began distributing Millennial Medical's aluminum crutch in Japan. The crutch garnered an award last year for being one of Medtrade's top new products. It has a shock absorber and an ergonomic handle and appears to fit the Japanese market to a T.
"They like high quality, new things that are inventive--they are excited about new products," said Ken Lester, who co-owns Millennial with Brad Larson, an orthopedic surgeon.
In Japan, Hi5 markets products through a network of distributors. In the United States, the company will sell direct to home medical equipment providers.
Japanese consumers and manufacturers of home medical equipment appear poised for what could be boom times. About five years ago, Japan implemented a social healthcare system. That system gave companies incentive to develop new products, which they now are ready to export to other markets, Morris said.
While Hi5 may be a start-up and vulnerable to larger competitors, he said, the company holds a few advantages: Exclusive rights to most of the products it distributes in the United States; an established distribution system in Japan; and a know-how that Japanese companies without any experience in the United States can put to work to expand here. Additionally, Morris, who taught in Japan for 10 years, and Tsutsumi, who also runs a business that provides training to caregivers, bring complementary skills to the endeavor.
"He has more experience in this field, but I speak better English," Morris said.