COMPANIES TO WATCH
|The beautiful model SR2405W bass from Ibanez’s Soundgear Premium series.
Bold, smart product development leads growth strategy at major m.i. supplier.
HOSHINO GAKKI CO. LTD. serves the m.i. market with two award-winning brands: Ibanez acoustic and electric guitars, effect pedals, and amplifiers; and Tama drums and related hardware and accessories. After joining the company in the mid-’70s and holding a number of management positions for subsidiaries in the U.S. and Japan, Kimihide “Ken” Hoshino was put in charge of the Tama Drum factory in 2007. In 2015, he was promoted to president of Hoshino Gakki and its global operations.
Based in Nagoya, Japan, with a U.S. headquarters in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, Hoshino sells to virtually every global market. While acknowledging distinctions among national and regional markets, Ken Hoshino suggests that their similarities and common challenges outweigh those differences. “Things like pricing, economic conditions, and product quality are universal factors that must be considered everywhere,” he says. “Being a global company with worldwide operations, we are able to stay in tune to the markets we serve, which is a major advantage. But we also must react to shifting economic factors on an international scale, which obviously presents a number of challenges.”
Like most manufacturers with a global reach and multinational production, Hoshino has had to contend with the U.S.-China trade war, and it has been closely watching the U.K.’s looming exit from the European Union. Although these difficulties have dominated global trade discussion, the more vexing and longer-standing challenge for Hoshino is unstable currency exchange rates. “Since the beginning of variable foreign exchange rates,” Ken Hoshino explains, “we’ve had to contend with daily changes in currency values. This affects pricing and, ultimately, business planning. Large swings in currency value can also have major impacts on sales. However, this is something Hoshino has been dealing with for some time and strategically plans for to the best of our ability.”
Established in 1908 as a book distributor, Hoshino acquired the Salvador Ibañez guitar company and began manufacturing Spanish classical-style instruments in the 1930s. The brand came into its own with the iconic Iceman, George Benson Signature model, and Musician Bass in the ’70s, and RG and JEM models in the ’80s. In the early ’90s, Ibanez became a leading proponent of new concepts such as seven-string guitars, and that adventurous spirit continues today. For example, the company’s multiscale guitars and basses are becoming increasingly popular. More recently, the AZ series, which draws on classic electric guitar designs, has been highly successful since its launch in 2018 and remains a top priority in 2020 with the introduction of several new models. Another hit, the edgy, metal-leaning Axion Label series, will also remain a focus into next year. Other important lines include the Artwood and AEG acoustic series, Soundgear and BTB basses, and the entire Premium instrument range.
Launched in 1974, Hoshino’s Tama division took the drumming world by storm with groundbreakingly sturdy hardware at a time when rock ’n’ roll brought bigger drums, bigger venues, and heavy-hitting players. Hits such as the Camco bass drum pedal and Titan Boom Cymbal Stands were followed years later by the hugely successful Iron Cobra bass drum and hi-hat pedal series. Along the way, the brand once associated almost exclusively with hard rock and metal won cross-genre acclaim with its lightweight drum shells, low-mass lugs, and Star Cast and Super Resonant Mounting systems.
“Ibanez is all about exploring what’s new, what might be the next big thing, and bringing that to the player,” says Hoshino USA Communications & Marketing Specialist Scott Miller. “The Axion Label series offers things like modern pickup designs from Bare Knuckle, Fishman, and Dimarzio, two multiscale models, and luminescent side dots. That wide range of features and options represents our approach to developing new instruments.”
Product development at Tama is guided by a similar philosophy but approached with an emphasis on innovations that solve drummers’ everyday challenges. For example, many drummers favor direct-drive bass drum pedals for their speed but have difficulty adapting to their feel. Miller explains that Tama’s new Dyna-Sync pedal addresses this challenge with a slidable cam that “allows the player to choose the feel of direct-drive, chain-drive, or something in between.” Other Tama products that will be in the promotional spotlight throughout 2020 include the Star Drums, Starclassic, Superstar Classic, and S.L.P. series, and the Starclassic Walnut/Birch drumset series.
As the company’s engineers, techs, and designers aim to develop the next must-have products, management invests to refine existing products and processes, ultimately delivering greater value. For example, Hoshino recently installed a state-of-the art UV paint system for drum shells at the Tama facility in China.
To promote a productive connection between the company’s innovators and end-users, social media has become an integral part of Hoshino’s day-to-day operations, serving both marketing and product development planning. “It’s a great tool for our customers to get a closer look at our products, and for us to get feedback from them directly,” Miller says. “Just by monitoring our social feeds, we’re able to see which products are going over well and what changes customers might want to see. For example, we get a good idea of the guitar models left-handed players would like to see most from us.”
Ken Hoshino reports that Hoshino Gakki’s growth has remained “very steady globally, with significant new business opportunities in China and the Asian market overall.” Looking ahead, he references the company’s ongoing goal: “to continue to deliver the best value and highest quality products possible for all of our customers.”