"We have a major advantage when it comes to technology."
Interview with Soichi Abe, Director, Managing Executive Officer TOTO
Mr Abe, TOTO entered the European market in 2009. Has the TOTO brand launch beensuccessful so far?
Yes, the market launch was very successful from our perspective – remember that the European market is among the most difficult in the world. No other continent has tougher competition or higher standards of quality. There are so many well-established brands in Europe already, and no one was waiting for a company like TOTO.
We followed a different strategy than our competitors – and this is the reason why we have been successful thus far. Before TOTO entered the European market, all of ourcompetitors focused specifically on product design as the way in which they differentiated themselves from each other. TOTO introduced a new aspect – technology. TOTO integrates technology into the design, making it practically invisible, but allowing users to benefit from the advantages it offers.
Let me give you two examples. The first is the toilet: TOTO only develops rimless toilets for the European market with the extremely smooth special CeFiONtect glaze and the highly efficient, hygienic Tornado Flush. Many of our competitors have followed suit since 2009 and now manufacture rimless toilets as well. But none of them can offer a toilet with our signature CeFiONtect and Tornado Flush. We are proud of the fact that TOTO has the best toilets thanks to our leading technologies.
The second is the WASHLET: We have over 35 years of experience in manufacturing WASHLETs, and have already sold 36 million of them around the world – more than any other competitor. Based on this experience, we can proudly say that our technology is the best on the market. TOTO developed a very convenient solution for users to clean themselves using warm water – one that is hygienic, effective, easy to use and comfortable.
Our competitors have also confirmed that the path we have chosen is the right one, as they have now started to place stronger emphasis on their own technologies. Many of them introduced their first rimless and shower toilets at the last ISH. The details show that our many years of experience give us a considerable edge when it comes to technology.
TOTO is a comprehensive supplier of bathroom products, even if the focus in the European market is currently just on toilets and WASHLETs. What will be the primary focus of product development in future?
Indeed, TOTO is a comprehensive manufacturer of bathroom products, a one-stop shopfor sanitary ceramics, faucets, showers, bathroom furnishings and accessories. When we enter into a new market, our main concern is to establish a relationship of trust with our customers. This primarily works due to the quality of our products. We concentrate first on specific key products – ones in which we have a technological edge over our manufacturers, and which offer a clear advantage to our customers. This is why wefocused on toilets and WASHLETs first. Anyone who has cleaned a toilet recognises the benefits of a rimless toilet straight away. The advantages of an effective, hygienic flushsystem that does not create mist or spray are also immediately clear. The WASHLET is definitely our key product overall!
Of course, we will start marketing other products more heavily in Europe, such as our sensor-operated automatic faucets, showers and hand dryers. We integrated innovative technologies in these products that make them both comfortable and environmentally friendly – two factors that will convince customers. We will continue on this path step by step until TOTO is known as the brand for technology, design, quality, and, of course, asa comprehensive manufacturer of bathroom products.
Our product developments for Europe will continue to focus on the WASHLET. We see a growing market for this segment here as confirmed by the steadily growing sales figures for shower toilets in general. As the world’s leading manufacturer of WASHLETs, TOTO naturally has outstanding opportunities in this growing market.
Our WASHLET technology puts us in the position to offer something new on the market and to give our European customers interesting options when redesigning their bathrooms. We are also focusing on developing products for project work – for public facilities, such as hotels and office buildings, as well as exclusive, upscale private residences.
TOTO is the market leader in Japan. Europe has different requirements when it comes tohygiene and design, though. How can TOTO be sure that its products are in line withEuropean tastes?
Demand is constantly changing in Europe as well. The bathroom is no longer just a place in which people wash themselves and brush their teeth. In Europe as well, the bathroom has become a place of relaxation and well-being. TOTO’s products meet these requirements in every respect.
We are convinced that WASHLETs will become established in Europe over time. Anyone who has used a WASHLET for an extended period of time won’t want to do without – this clean, fresh experience wins people over.
TOTO operates in countries around the world. We sell products that correspond to the respective requirements on each market. Our product line in the United States is different than in Japan, which is also different from our European range. This is our every day business. Our product developers and designers in Japan are familiar with the European market. They work closely with our Sales and Product Management teams in Europe,sharing ideas, information and market developments. We also have a close relationship with European designers, such as Stefano Giovannoni, who designed one of our WASHLETs – as well as the French design agency Elium Design, responsible fordesigning our new SG collection.
TOTO products are found in many international hotel chains. Can you tell us which ones? Why are renowned hotels so willing to install TOTO products?
TOTO products – especially WASHLETs, faucets, showers and washbasins – are in high demand and featured in many hotels. We have a long list of references, including thes every famous names: ShangriLa, Hilton, Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Ritz Carlton, Hyatt, Jumeirah, Marriott and many more familiar chains.
TOTO specifically offers the kinds of products that four- and five-star hotels seek to provide their guests with the utmost in comfort and well-being. These hotels have sophisticated guests already used to a very high standard of bathroom furnishings, which is why they design their bathrooms with luxury showers and WASHLETs that offer outstanding hygiene and comfort. Four- and five-star hotels always offer a little more totheir guests – a little more comfort, a little more luxury, a little more design and so on –and they can achieve this with TOTO.
International hotel chains pay attention to what their customers want. This is something that they and TOTO have in common – and one reason why they have always been excellent advisers and partners to us around the world. We maintain and foster these relationships with our global company network.
Mr Abe, thank you very much for the interview.
1. Soichi Abe, Director, Managing Executive Officer
2. TOTO Headquarter office air Kokura.
3. Ceramics prior to combustive process.