November 30, 2007


Aiming for Sustainability using Sales Promotion Skills -- PANS Ltd.

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.63 (November 2007)
Toward a Sustainable Japan--Corporations at Work Article Series No.66

The core service provided by PANS Ltd. is sales promotion (SP) for client businesses and organizations. Established in 2001, its three main services are SP campaign creation, importing and exporting display items, and sustained sales promotion support.

One type of SP work that they do involves trade shows. In Japan, exhibiting at trade shows is normally a process of "create and destroy." The company receives five to six orders from clients per year to help them plan and exhibit at trade shows. For these events that last only a few days, they design and decorate the booth, create catalogs and brochures to hand out at the exhibition venue, and design and create novelty goods. It requires creativity to design and make original goods exclusively for each exhibition and each product in order to attract people to the site and keep their attention.

Japan's largest comprehensive convention facility is the Tokyo International Exhibition Center or Tokyo Big Sight. In fiscal 2006, 334 trade shows were held there, and a huge number of booths were created. A trade show lasts only for a few days, and a huge amount of waste is generated by every show. Since exhibiting at trade shows in order to promote sales involves creating to destroy, PANS strives to limit harmful effects on the environment, to reduce waste, and moreover to break the mold by transforming trade show waste into reusable materials. This process also challenges their creativity.

From Disposable to Reusable

"The biggest difference in sales promotion between western countries and Japan is the amount of waste generated after the exhibition. The trends and quality of SP product designs are not significantly different, but I feel there is a difference in the way booths are created and items displayed," Shunsuke Inukai, Managing director of PANS, said.

Inukai entered the sales promotion business after having worked for a manufacturer. While planning and designing for trade shows, he learned how businesses overseas, especially European companies, think about booths. It was an opportunity for Inukai to change how he handles his business. "I feel businesses in Japan have been changing. But about ten years ago, booths that had taken a lot of time to construct were destroyed and disposed right after the exhibition. However, in Europe, the booths were disassembled, packed and sent back to the office without generating garbage. When I thought of how many trade shows are held in Japan, I felt depressed because I also probably created a large amount of waste in the course of my work," he said.

In Japan, it is cheaper to throw away booth facilities than to store them due to the high price of land. Recyclable paper products such as un-needed cardboard boxes may seem to present opportunities for reducing waste, but paper products also present certain challenges under the Fire Defense Law.

Against this backdrop, PANS introduced "Penguin," an Austrian banner system that is already used in more than 40 countries around the world. This system uses carbon fiber rods that are lightweight and robust. The portable system is very easy to set up without tools. It is a practical system that can be reused many times simply by changing a single panel. PANS is the exclusive distributor of the Penguin system in Japan and is trying to promote this reusable banner display system.

SP Connections

Display items widely used for SP tend to be made of acrylic, but Inukai said, "I was not happy using acrylic because it can only be discarded after use." Thus, he focused his attention on bioplastics, which are now increasingly being used for containers, to make display items. However, PANS shelved the idea due to the high cost of bioplastics. The total annual demand for plastic in Japan is about 14 million to 15 million tons, and bioplastics account for only 30,000 tons. The major reason for sluggish growth in bioplastics is probably their high cost.

Even if the company is reluctant to continue using non-recyclable material, bioplastics cannot be used unless clients, who generally prefer to reduce SP costs, agree to do so. Inukai says, "In Japan I think we need to convince people that using bioplastics is good and necessary despite the high cost." High cost makes introducing bioplastic display items for SP in Japan problematic, but in the United States some companies are actually using it. Inukai is very interested to know how these American companies work with SP companies and the concepts they base their practice on.

Intelligence, Health and Rebuilding, the "KenKenKen Project"

Companies change when the assumptions and attitudes of their top management change. Inukai realized this in the course of his everyday work and always keeps it in mind, while asking himself whether he would feel comfortable talking about his work to children. This kind of thinking led him to start applying concepts of sustainability to his job. The keywords he chose were "intelligence, health and rebuilding." In Japanese, this is called the "KenKenKen Project," as the Japanese for these 3 key words all start with the syllable "ken." Some aspects of the project involve rebuilding social systems, and others involve rebuilding private lifestyles. Its main purpose is to draw people's attention to the concepts represented by the key words in order to create a community where people practice lifestyles that can be passed on to the next generation. The project is going through a preliminary stage until the end of 2007, and will be launched after undergoing evaluation and revision in 2008.

The purpose of SP is to promote new products as effectively as possible, and its core role is "to let people know what they did not know." In other words, its tasks are to identify potential market demands and to provide the relevant information efficiently or educate people so as to enhance the market's acceptance of the product. The products need not be strictly new ? what people need at any given moment can function as new information even if it has existed already. For example, if ignorance leads to environmental degradation, or if the younger generation wants to learn about Japanese traditional wisdom, the necessary information should be available, and will be new to those who have not been exposed to it yet. Using sales promotion skills, the necessary information can be made more effectively available.

PANS's KenKenKen Project is a good example of how the SP sector has started using its ability to connect goods and consumers in order to produce goods and services that connect businesses, society, local people, and people around the planet. "We encourage people not just to move forward but rather to stop for a while and think about what they are doing," says Inukai of PANS. "To create such opportunities, we organize a variety of events, including screenings of documentary films and conferences with farmers who offer safe agricultural produce such as vegetables and eggs."

Chopsticks Joining People with Each Other, and with their Community, Culture, and Future

Some of PANS's most popular sustainability-related products are its original brand of "Kaihashi" portable chopsticks and related products. Since they were launched in June, sales have been expanding, particularly when the company started offering to print names on the chopsticks. This service has appealed to a wider range of consumers, including individual consumers as well as businesses that provide them as novelty, for example at international meetings and chamber of commerce board meetings. In November, the company opened a shopping website at Yahoo!, which is helping broaden the customer base for this product.

The company also produces small bags for carrying the chopsticks using Japanese traditional dyed goods, and this opens networks with local communities. Although every local area in Japan has its own traditional handicrafts with unique skills and cultural values, many of these cultural assets are at risk of being lost and some have already disappeared before people realized they were at risk. "If good products are unsalable, we as SP professionals promote them by making the best use of our designing and sales promotion skills, which helps these products meet the needs of the times," says Inukai. "We are also happy to be of help in revitalizing local communities by creating greater variations of goods using local products."

Small is beautiful. PANS aims to return profit to the society, rather than to merely expand its own business and become a listed company. "There are still only a few agencies involved in sustainability in Japan. This means that we have the chance to make our perspective the standard for the Japanese SP industry."

(Written by Reiko Aomame)