12 Oct 2012
There aren’t any Japanese people who don’t know the name of the all-round music manufacturer, Yamaha. Celebrating their 125th anniversary this year, Yamaha currently holds local subsidiaries throughout the world, and has expanded business globally.
Yamaha made their first appearance in Australia through Rose Music, a family owned music store in 1961. Yamaha purchased distribution rights from the store and in 1986, the local subsidiary was founded. Since then, Yamaha has continued to supply high quality musical instruments and audio-visual products for local Australians.
Mr Yasuhiro Nihashi came to Australia as the president of the company in April. He has previously lived in Singapore and Canada, and has an extensive knowledge of the global music market.
What does President Nihashi think of the music market in Australia?
And what are his personal goals as the president of Yamaha?
Australia and Yamaha
It’s been about six months since you came to Australia. How is your life and work here?
Although it’s been very busy, I’m really enjoying it here.
Soon after I arrived, Hiromi Uehara came here for a jazz festival, and there was also a piano competition in Sydney that’s only held once every four years. A lot of things have happened in the past five months!
In the past, I’ve lived in Canada and Singapore, so this is the third time I’ve lived overseas. But no matter what country you go to, you always have to start again from zero. The people and market here are different, so I’m constantly learning many new things.
President Nihashi with Hiromi Uehara. Uehara came to Australia in June to take part in Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012. According to President Nihashi, Hiromi was a younger student at his high school in Hamamatsu. After the concert they had a chat and took this photo.
Photo courtecy of Yamaha Corporation
What characteristics does the Australian market have?
The global market is mainly divided into three – North America, Europe and Asia. Australia has a small population and yet so much land, so for that reason I originally thought it was kind of similar to North America. However, since I’ve moved here, I’ve come to realise that it’s a country with a strong influence from England. The consumers in America and Asia are generally more preoccupied with affordability. In Australia, people are prepared to pay for quality. So in that aspect, the market’s quite similar to Europe.
I hope we can supply Australians with quality products in response to that demand.
What kind of Yamaha products are popular in Australia?
In terms of business, the sales of our audio-visual products are quite impressive in comparison to other markets. Australia is second only to Europe and America. In regards to musical instruments, we sell equal amounts of all kinds – from pianos and acoustic wind instruments to drums and guitars.
Does this mean that from now on you’ll put most of your focus into marketing audio-visual products?
No, not just that. Since I joined the company I’ve always been interested in audio-visual products, so it is quite close to me.
As a manufacturer of musical instruments, the face of Yamaha is, of course, acoustic. So I would like to sell more pianos, to represent the brand image of Yamaha.
What kind of strategies are there for selling an instrument?
Instruments and audio-visual products as a form of business are different to sales networks. Audio-visual products are sold through mass retailers like JB HI-FI and Harvey Norman. Instruments are sold at specialist stores and we also have to target the school market. For example, music colleges have many students that require instruments.
Also, when it comes to instruments, there is always demand for detailed expertise. In particular, the brand’s value is very important for acoustic instruments. For example, if a musician plays a Yamaha instrument in a competition and receives a good result, we will receive more inquires about our products.
Due to this, we employ full-time staff to cater for the specialists and artists. In Australia, the product managers support semi-professional musicians so that they too can attain good results in competitions. We also open music schools and create based on demand. As musical population increases, we increase our instrument purchases to match it. That sort of activity is necessary.
As I’ve said before, our audio-visual products are selling strongly, but sales of our instruments in Australia are also very high, even when compared with the rest of the world.
Music is very popular in Australia. I’m very glad that I can do business here.
How does Yamaha Australia differ to the overseas subsidiaries of Yamaha?
It’s very spacious and comfortable. Kind of like the continent itself (laughs).
Employees who play musical instruments probably make up about 60-70% of the company. We have a lot of semi-professional musicians in the company. They start up bands within the company.
As product managers have to play the instruments in front of the dealers, it’s quite natural to have lots of musically-inclined people. There seem to be a lot more here than in other countries. So there’s a lot of high-level specialisation happening in the respective areas that I’m in charge of.
President Nihashi and Yamaha
Why did you choose to work for Yamaha in the beginning?
Back then Yamaha also made skis and tennis racquets. I was attracted by sport supplies, so I entered the company. The person that was in charge of the sporting supplies had a really cool jumper and I really wanted it (laughs).
But for this post, the rate of successful applicants was quite high, so I ended up in audio-visual (laughs). Life isn’t sweet (laughs).
You’ve designed audio-visual products before, haven’t you?
Yes, that’s right. For two years after I returned from Canada in 2000, I designed products like mini and micro components. Even today, the products like Piano Craft (polished lacquer on speaker parts) are continuously selling because it’s similar to the glossy coating used on pianos. I tried to incorporate different elements of musical instruments into the design of audio-visual products. Then in 2001, I designed a thin, wall-hanging mini-component and a TSX desktop audio system.
The second and third product that President Nihashi’s produced: the latest product in the Piano Craft series, the Micro Component System MCR-322. The gloss on the speaker parts is a beautiful piano black. The curved figure is a reminiscent of a guitar’s body line and the attention to detail is as you’d expect from a musical instrument manufacturer. Photo courtecy of Yamaha Corporation
These were products that I really focused all of my efforts on – if you have determination, you can do anything. For a CD cover to be opened and closed by a motor, we placed an order through the engineers and consulted with many European and local Yamaha subsidiaries about the design.
Holding a consensus within the company can be very difficult because it’s natural for everyone’s opinions to differ. It’s not like it all went according to plan, but somehow we managed to get the basic form down in notes. It was quite an interesting experience.
It gave us a taste of the beauty of manufacturing – being able to start completely from scratch and making something out of nothing.
President Nihashi and his goals for Yamaha
As the president of Yamaha Music Australia, what are your goals for the company?
I want to make products that will leave something behind. So as an overseas sales company, what can I leave behind? The answer is a strong sales network. When you sell things, what is more important; the products or the sales network? It’s the sales network. For example, regardless of how fantastic your products are, if you don’t have a strong sales network then you can’t sell anything.
In our job, there is a happiness of selling products with form. When I see a product with our company’s logo on it, I’m very happy from a business point of view.
For the engineers, there happiness comes from making products. So if we can leave a form of happiness on the products that we sell, then that is a sales network.
In addition to that, there’s employee training. How much motivation do our employees have? How can we raise this motivation? That is my job.
Yamaha is a company that sells dreams. Musical instruments aren’t everyday essentials – it’s not like you can’t live without them. However, instruments have the ability to enrich one’s life. With this added value of instruments, we strive to make the customers happy. That’s what I believe.
Interviewer: Noriko Tabei
Translation: Meagan Sneddon
Photos without credit: Jun Hasegawa