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The electronic bidet is well established in the Japanese market. Its manufacturers enjoy a competitive advantage due to the unique characteristics of the Japanese people, who are very concerned about hygiene, and due to constraints on space that preclude installing a standalone bidet in most Japanese homes. Given Japan's high GDP, its technological savvy, and its dense population, a compact electronic product that enables people to maintain cleanliness is a natural fit. The electronic bidet is also popular because it reduces the expense of buying toilet paper, important in a country where timber resources are limited. Finally, in contrast to their foreign counterparts, Japanese families often look at the long-term economic and societal benefits of a product when making purchasing decisions. There are no other substitutes in the market that clean as efficiently and economically as the electronic bidet. Firms in this mature industry compete on price, features, and quality of the established brand.
Our analysis of the US market indicates that a service-oriented provider focused on a particular niche in the consumer market can expect to reach breakeven volume levels in this industry with only modest market share at our anticipated price point of $240. See Exhibit 1Breakeven and Sensitivity Analysis, below. Details of our promotion plan follow.
Customer. Our target customers are healthcare institutions (e.g., hospitals and assisted living facilities) in the U.S. that provide care to the elderly and elderly people who need assistance with daily living. Based on US Census data and projections for 2005, there are nearly 32.5 million people aged 65-84, and 5.2 million individuals aged 85 and over, currently living in the United States. Within these groups, 13% and 46%, respectively, need assistance with their daily living activities. Based on these figures, we estimate that more than 4.4 million individuals can benefit from our product.
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Company. We view ourselves as being in the healthcare/lifestyle improvement category, and our value premium is predicated on the exceptional service we will provide to our institutional customers. This will serve as a competitive barrier to entry for a more established, foreign producer who may be able to compete with us on price in the US market, but who cannot match our service capabilities. Among our other strengths, we believe our niche marketing effort and knowledge of our customers' needs give us a competitive advantage. In terms of weaknesses, we are dependent on a foreign supplier who may one day become our competitor in this market, and our costs may fluctuate as exchange rates between Japanese and US currencies move. Furthermore, there may be adoption issues within our prospective customer base, since bidets are not traditionally viewed as relevant for medical and/or therapeutic purposes. Finally, our product may be heavily dependent on word-of-mouth promotion, and therefore, not likely to benefit from traditional advertising alone. In our promotional strategy below, we discuss ways we plan to overcome these weaknesses.
Competition. Since there are no major Japanese firms targeting the US market for Japanese bidets, our primary source of competition comes from domestic paper manufacturers and domestic bidet distributors. The major paper manufacturers in the industry control up to 85% of the bath tissue market and enjoy strong brand loyalty. For many years, these firms have used images of babies, kittens, and fluffy bears in their packaging and advertising to promote their products on the basis of softness, absorbency, and appearance. More recently, they have begun to enhance their products with additives like lotions to soften their product further. The fact that such features are becoming available in paper products suggests that suppliers in this market have identified an unmet need for a more comfortable means of cleaning oneself after using the toilet. Likewise, the more traditional, European-style bidets offered by domestic bidet manufacturers such as American Standard and Kohler are typically standalone ceramic appliances designed to sit alongside a conventional toilet. Few households can accommodate an additional bathroom appliance or afford their high costtypically, between $1000 and $2000. For these reasons, we believe our electronic bidet will fulfill the unmet market need for comfort far more effectively than traditional bathroom paper products ever could, and that it will compete successfully against more traditional bidets due to its size, price, and feature advantages.
Product. The electronic bidet features an integrated, self-sanitizing nozzle that comes out from beneath the toilet seat and squirts water upwards to clean and an attached blow drying unit that eliminates the need for wiping with toilet paper after use. Users can adjust the water pressure, the temperature of the water, and the duration of the spray. Additional features include seat heating, massage options, automatic lid opening and flushing after use, and wireless control panels built into the toilet or into the seat itself.
Place (Distribution). Data from the American Hospital Association indicates that there are 3,826 non-government hospitals in the US, representing approximately 417,000 toilets in our target market. See Exhibit 3Target Customer Base. To access this market, we will leverage the fact that one of the more unpleasant aspects of a nurse's or caregiver's job is tending to the toileting needs of their patients. Therefore, we will initiate a direct mail campaign primarily addressed to nurses and other caregivers in hospitals and assisted living facilities that demonstrates how bidets can improve their job satisfaction and enhance the quality of care they provide to their patients. In addition, a dedicated sales force will attend annual healthcare and nursing conventions to promote our product's benefits to hospital administrators and assisted living directors. To ensure that our institutional customers can see the full benefits of bidet use, we will offer free trial periods for our products. Over a reasonable period of time, we expect nurses and other key influencers within healthcare organizations to see that bidets not only reduce costs (through productivity gains) and increase service quality but also improve staff morale. Moreover, the use of electronic bidets could represent a competitive advantage for some healthcare institutions competing in local markets for nursing labor.