Exporting to Japan – 5 minutes with Rhydian Pountney

Zoe Bagnall
Content and PR Executive | Business West
7th January 2021

We asked Rhydian Pountney, former Director of Group Commercial Services at Renishaw, about his experience in exporting to Japan and what tips he can offer to businesses looking to follow in its footsteps. Rhydian has recently retired from his role at Renishaw and continues to be a Department for International Trade (DIT) Export Champion - encouraging other businesses to achieve growth through overseas trade. 

Hello Rhydian. Can you tell us a little about Renishaw?

Renishaw is a global, high-precision metrology and healthcare technology group. We design, develop, and deliver systems that provide unparalleled precision, control, and reliability. We identify customer needs and then apply innovative engineering to deliver successful solutions.

Many of our products have been successful in Japan including our metrology equipment which is used in automotive and aerospace manufacturing and our position encoders which are used in a range of semiconductor instruments for making the latest chips, memory and OLED displays. 

Why did Renishaw target Japan?

As a huge high quality manufacturing nation, Japan was an obvious target for Renishaw’s products, especially given the number of machine tool builders and automotive manufacturers that were already established there. So initially we wanted to ensure we could offer support and the repair of our products that were already installed installed in market. 

We started by providing day-to-day support and then established our second overseas subsidiary, after America, in Tokyo. Prior to that we had been selling through distributors which is a very common way of doing business in Japan. In 1982 we established in Tokyo and later with an office in Nagoya, which allowed us to build deeper relationships with our key customers as well as sell directly and support our products being used there.

Did you encounter any barriers and how did you overcome these?

The language barrier was and remains one of the key hurdles to overcome. As well as this, there was an often-impenetrable business code, which although now has become more akin to international standards, nuance is still required in the way British companies do business in Japan. In meetings, punctuality, politeness, and patience are essential. Combine this with reliable products and services and dependable delivery – you will secure good business.

A lot of companies in Japan have their preferred purchasing partners, so it’s crucial to understand who to contact. You need to build a relationship before they can trust that you will be reliable. At Renishaw, we realised quite early on that directly recruiting key personnel enabled us to have people on the 'inside', which helped with overcoming these barriers. We also looked to recruit Japanese speaking staff here when the opportunity arose to facilitate the communication between head office and our local team. Renishaw’s current president there is one such graduate who moved to Japan in 2008.

How did DIT support you to trade in Japan?

During the early years, support from DIT to attend trade shows in Japan and general market visits was very helpful and one of the best ways to gain first-hand knowledge of the market. 

Renishaw also received guidance on how to approach networking which is so important in establishing relationships in Japan. 

What does the future hold for Renishaw?

Renishaw continues to invest in its operations in Japan and has recently finished refurbishing a new office in Nagoya. The company continue to offer the highest levels of global customer support whilst building and maintaining those long-term relationships with customers. 

Do you have any tips for businesses looking to export their goods/services to Japan?

It is vital to start with a good distributor that is enthusiastic and who really understands your products. This was important for Renishaw because our product and application are very technical and general trading companies don’t focus too long on products that are difficult to sell and support.

It is also important to understand the business culture and the best way to do this is to carry out visits where you can meet potential distributors and buyers. Keeping promises is vital in Japan and if possible, demonstrate your commitment to the market by establishing some sort of presence there.

For further information on DIT’s exporting support and international opportunities, visit www.great.gov.uk

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