BUSINESS SUPPORT Published by Tokyo Research of Commerce and Industry on July 2007

25 Sept 2007

Blue Terra, as the Watanabe Educational Products Company is known in English, controls a large part of the market for globes in Japan. But, when Miwako Watanabe took over as the 4th. Company president in 1995, annual sales were less than sixty million yen. Last year annual sales reached 140 million yen. Even though she may just be filling in until her sons take over, let窶冱 take a look at what fueled this growth.

Miwako Watanabe was born in Tokyo in 1949. She worked in a trading firm and an art gallery before marriage. She ran English classroom while raising 3 boys. She had nothing to do with the company but the death of her husband in 1995 resulted in her becoming the 4th. President.

It was the death of your husband suddenly placed you in the position of company president. A. Until then I had nothing to do with the company and I was only thinking of a temporary role. I didn窶冲 have any plans to restructure either but having to actually face running the company I soon found out how hard it was to pay the employee窶冱 salaries. My first thought was to at least get the company out of the red.

Q. Where did you start.

I started with marketing. Until then we had only one major sales route. 70-80% of sales were to science related businesses. I felt it was necessary to open up new sales routes. I went around stationary shops and department stores and put great effort into researching their requirements. It was around this time that I thought of the Globe Fair idea.

Q. Was there any opposition to your new methods.

Of course there was. At that time there were 7 employees and 3 of them were over 65. They had the confidence to make something well but no idea at all about promoting the product or developing a new product.

Q. Did you feel that you were deriding your husband窶冱 method of management when you began your restructuring?

The company was run not only by my husband but also by his family. Even though he wanted to restructure, it was not really something that he could do. For me, there was no time to think of such things as the company faced a critical time. I pushed the restructuring as if it was the will of my husband.

Q. I believe that you yourself participated in the production process.

It窶冱 easy to say, 窶廬 want to do something new,窶� but I felt that if I was to make something new, I would have to know what I was talking about. Being involved in the production process also gave me a unique view of the problems we were facing. There are many processes that had to be handled by hand and these were centered in a few artisans and there was no concept of being able to perform multiple tasks, and productivity was very low. To be able to overturn the production process I joined the production team.

Q. When did you feel that you had made some progress.

After about 2 years. We had started to turn a profit and sales at Itoya, Maruzen and department stores which had only been 30 % of sales came to represent 70 to 80 percent of sales. I had also arranged a system whereby skills were shared by all employees and in addition we began new ideas and were able to respond to requests for globes that we had not considered before. At the same time we introduced a mechanical method of making globes which lead to a tripling of our production capacity.

Q. You are very enthusiastic about making globes based on various themes.

When the Korea Japan World Cup as held, we printed a photo of the earth taken from a weather satelite onto a soccer ball and called it the 窶廢co-shoot.窶� We also made one globe with the participating countries highlighted and featuring soccer information. We also created the 窶廸ight Globe窶� which shows how the world appears in darkness. We also produce a 窶廨reen Planet Earth Globe窶� that shows each county窶冱 carbon dioxide emissions, population, the size and position of nuclear power plants. Recently, in response to a request from the education correspondence magazine 窶弑-can窶� we are producing a globe that shows world heritage sites. This product targets the Baby Boomer generation which enjoys travel and is designed to be a talking point about their travel memories.

Q. Your catalogue is not only limited to globes?

We are confident of being able to provide a top line product we also see ourselves as a provider of information. Globes not only have longitude and latitude but also are cram packed with the power to convey borders, country names, and other factors about the world. But all of these factors change. We feel that it is our responsibility to be able to provide correct and easy to understand information.

Q. Where do you get your information from.

We get our information from a satellite with the cooperation of the technical center at Tokai University. Making use of such data we are able to be at the forefront of providing information regarding the 4th. largest lake in the world. The Aral Sea suffered from the Soviet Union窶冱 mismanagement of the environment and has been lowered by 15 meters resulting in a lake area of lass than 1/3 its original size. In the production of the 窶廨reen Globe窶� we used information from the 窶廛efense Whitepaper窶� to ensure the most accurate data source.

Q. You really have your finger on the pulse of change.

It is because of the change that we are leaving a firm record on our globes. We are still experimenting with ways to present information and where to place the emphasis.

Q. Where do you find you energy?

I want to be able to leave a product to be proud of and the technical and artistic ability to produce it to the next generation. And I also want to be able to leave the company in good condition for my 3 sons. After all, I am only filling in. I feel that it is my job to create an environment whereby things keep running even if I am not around.

Blue Terra
Products: Globes, Star Charts, Portable Planetariums
Established: 1962
Address: 3-20-14 Inari, Soka-shi, Saitama-ken
Capital: 10 million Yen
Employees: 7 (includes part timers)
Sales: 140 Million Yen (As of Aug. 2006)