When doing business in Japan, bring an adventurous palateNovember 29, 2012 6:00 AM
by Joan Tupponce
Mark Flanagan wasn’t an adventurous eater until he began traveling to Kanazawa, Japan, on business. Now he eats everything from sea urchin to jellyfish. “You have to be open-minded and try all the foods and drink the drinks,” he says, noting that it’s a good business practice in Japan to sample various delicacies.
As president of Shibuya Hoppmann Corp. in Elkwood, Flanagan travels to Kanazawa up to four times a year to meet with parent company Shibuya Kogyo. Shibuya Hoppmann has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese manufacturer since 2005. “We knew Shibuya,” Flanagan says. “They were a distributor of our products in Asia.”
Hoppmann Corp. was founded in 1955 by Kurt Hoppmann, a German scientist who came to the U.S. as part of Project Paperclip, which recruited German scientists to America after World War II. “He was originally doing fabrication and shop work for the government, making machine parts,” Flanagan says.
Eventually, the business was divided between two divisions: automation, which made coin-counting machines that used centrifugal force to sort coins, and audio-visual. That division included products such as video conference facilities for the commercial sector and military command centers. The company sold the audio-visual division in the early 1990s.
In 1992, Hoppmann Corp. established Hoppmann International, a separate company in Europe with manufacturing plants and sales operations in Germany and the Netherlands. By the mid-1990s Hoppmann Corp.’s revenues stood at about $36 million. “At the company’s height around 1997, revenues were $37 million,” says Flanagan, who joined the firm in 1989. “By 1998, we had 250 employees.”
Hoppmann successfully adapted the centrifugal concept to the production of consumer products. Originally, the process was used to count and roll coins. Then Hoppmann adapted it to take parts of a product, count them and organize them for the next process. “We make machines that make our customer’s products,” Flanagan explains. “We make the machine that will take the cap, barrel and screw in a lip balm container and put it together.”
Today the company makes a variety of products that include centrifugal parts and feeders, continuous motion assembly and placement systems, robotic decontamination units and high-speed aseptic filling machines. Customers include Fortune 500 businesses in the personal care, household, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage industries.
The company has the first high-speed aseptic filling machine in the U.S. “No bacteria are introduced into the manufacturing environment so [the product being made] doesn’t spoil. It is packaged in a manner that minimizes refrigeration,” Flanagan says of the aseptic filling process.
Shibuya Kogyo became interested in Hoppmann Corp. when it was searching for a North American partner. Founded in 1931, Shibuya Kogyo is a publicly held company with revenues of $850 million and almost 2,800 employees. Its products range from robotics and semiconductors to laser-cutting machines and decontamination equipment.
Shibuya Kogyo bought Hoppmann Corp.’s U.S. operations in 2005 but opted not to buy Hoppmann International, which was later sold by Hoppmann. When Shibuya acquired Hoppmann Corp., the Virginia-based company had revenues of $12 million. Today, the company’s revenues are about $25 million, Flanagan says, noting that the company ― which once was private ―is now publicly owned.
The company’s 47,000- square-foot headquarters/manufacturing plant in Elkwood ― located in Culpeper County ― handles engineering, final assembly and customization while its Lynchburg plant does assembly and fabrication. The company moved to Culpeper from Haymarket to meet the needs of employees. “We started in Alexandria but moved to Springfield, then Chantilly, then Haymarket and finally Elkwood to accommodate the cost of living. We wanted to be attractive to our employees. It was about employee retention,” Flanagan said.
Plus, Elkwood is centrally located. “Most of the companies we deal with [in the U.S.] are on the East Coast and in the Midwest.”
Approximately 20 percent of the company’s sales are overseas. The remaining 80 percent are in North America. “Europe and Asia are our biggest international markets,” Flanagan says. “Asia is bigger now because we have a strong partner.”
Flanagan finds that relationships really matter when dealing with countries in Asia. “They want to know you and trust you first,” he says. “After they know that they can trust you, they are very loyal.”
When dealing with the Japanese, Flanagan says, you have to “listen more and talk less” in order to make sure you are saying what you mean. “You have to be very careful,” he says. “When you do a quick introduction to the Japanese business culture, you don’t understand that the meaning of a word isn’t necessarily what you believe the meaning to be. For example, if you look up ‘Hai,’ it means yes in Japanese. In practice it’s more of ‘I acknowledge you said something.’ It’s not an absolute agreement.”
It’s important to make an effort to learn the language, especially pleasantries such as “hello” and “goodbye.” “It’s courtesy and it does matter,” Flanagan says.
He has learned that the Japanese conduct business during the day but spend their evenings building personal relationships with clients. “Both elements are required,” he says, adding that he enjoys visiting Kanazawa. “People will talk to you on the street. It’s a nice, friendly, cosmopolitan town.”
Economy of Kanazawa
The capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture region of Japan, Kanazawa is sandwiched between the Japan Alps and the Sea of Japan. The economy is fueled by various industries including tourism and manufacturing. Companies headquartered in Kanazawa include software developer Kanazawa Engineering Systems Inc., Ishikawa Computer Center Co. Ltd., a software services provider; Tsudakoma Corp., which manufactures and sells textile machinery and machine tool equipment; and Kanazawa Shinkin Bank Ltd., a credit union.
An ancient castle town, Kanazawa is filled with history and natural beauty. Mark Flanagan enjoys visiting the Kenrokuen Garden, which sits next to Kanazawa Castle, built in 1583. Kenrokuen is regarded as one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. All of the historic buildings in Kanazawa Castle Park are illuminated at night, creating dramatic scenes against the night sky. Other popular sites include the 18th-century-established Omi-cho Market with up to 170 stores and restaurants. The market is home to several fresh fish and seafood stores. When completed in 2014, a high-speed railway line called the Hokuriku Shinkansen will link Kanazawa to Tokyo.
Economy of Elkwood/Culpeper County
Culpeper County’s diversified economy includes service, agricultural and manufacturing industries, which produce products ranging from auto parts to fiber optics. Many companies choose Culpeper because of its strong fiber-optic network and the Daniel Technology Center of Germanna Community College. The county has several technology organizations, including the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, which provides services to financial institutions. Some of the county’s largest employers are American Manufacturing, which makes wastewater treatment systems, and Hardwood Artisans, makers of hand-made furniture.
Visiting Elkwood/Culpeper County
The Town of Culpeper’s tree-shaded streets include South East Street with many Greek and Colonial Revival homes that date back to the early 1800s. The town’s historic district features the circa-1874 Culpeper County Courthouse as well as the Culpeper Downtown Farmer’s Market, open April through November with local produce and goods. The Culpeper Airport annually hosts the Culpeper Regional Airport AirFest with antique aircraft. Other areas of interest include the Museum of Culpeper History with American Indian artifacts and Civil War history exhibits and the circa-1800 Burgandine House, one of the town’s oldest buildings. The 1938 Culpeper State Theatre is scheduled to re-open in the spring of 2013 as a major entertainment and educational venue.
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