The recycling company of the future
Can you introduce your company to our readers and tell us what your competitive advantages are?
There is a synergy between reuse and recycling. Some companies do one or the other in Japan, but the strength of Hamaya is that we are able to combine the two. We are strong in the area of reuse, but recycling e-waste and rare metals still has a long way to go, so we would like to strengthen this part of our business. One of our strengths is that we have many different foreign partners, which means that we not only have many sales routes, but also many sources of suppliers in foreign countries. In addition, another strength is that we have a specialist for material analysis.
Japan is a very isolated country and had to make the most of the limited resources it has. What is your assessment of the recycling industry in Japan and what are its strengths?
The company’s ratio is as follows: 40% of all Hamaya sales come from base metals, such as iron, copper and aluminum. Another 20% is made up of rare metals, namely gold, silver and platinum, which come from PCBs and cell phones. Finally comes the activity of reuse. The recycling business itself is not in a good position compared to China. Because rare metals are currently popular, the prices are increasing every year, which draws people’s attention to China and a lot of volume comes out of this country. In comparison, Japanese companies are superior in rare metal refining technologies, which makes the process faster and more efficient.
Your original business bought and sold household items for the reuse industry. How important are trading companies in Japan?
We do not deal with Sogo Shosha and large trading houses. We do business with small and medium trading companies, the end user being sales companies in local areas. It’s our sales channel and our way of doing business.
You have many different businesses: NPO Hamaya, Used Net, Gimashoten and Tanuki Antique Shop. Could you please detail some of your business sectors?
Gimashoten supplies iron materials directly to manufacturers of electric furnaces. Tanuki and it’s interesting because he buys Nordic furniture and household items from Northern Europe, ships them to Japan and with the same container we load it with Japanese products and ship them to France. This creates a circular system in the three countries. Homewares are vintage and old-fashioned, hailing from the UK or France, with many buyers here in Japan. The container traffic I described creates good relationships with different countries and customers. Quite famous products can be found here in terms of antiques, and they will always be in excellent condition and of good quality.
With the shift to electric vehicles, the ability to recycle lithium-ion batteries has been a point of contention. Are you looking to get into this aspect of the recycling business?
We are not going to the field yet, but maybe when the time comes. To do this, a specific recycling technology is necessary, but we have affiliated companies that have the capacity to carry it out.
You are currently present in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, where you can buy your second-hand items made in Japan. How has the “made by Japan” brand evolved over time?
There was a branch in what can be defined as made by Japan. Thirty years ago, these products were highly valued due to their quality and standards. Now, we can’t say that because there aren’t many companies anymore that have a pure understanding of what “made by Japan” means. We see the change in attitude of foreign customers towards these products, but we really believe that many second-hand products are found in the market.
You were founded in the 1980s, growing from a small store to a $100 million company. How were you able to achieve this growth?
We started out as a small boutique, our most successful period being in the 90s, as that was when the appreciation for the “made by Japan” brand was at its highest. 1991 was the first year we started exporting and we learned a lot during that time. In fact, we still have people working in this company who have been here since its inception.
Unfortunately, the economic bubble of the 90s burst and with many Japanese companies unable to go overseas, we saw Chinese companies starting to take their place. For this reason, we were unable to work with some tier one and two companies that manufactured electronic parts. With companies selling to end users struggling, many component manufacturers have had to move overseas. For us, as a scrap processing company, we also felt the effects, because we couldn’t get as much scrap as we wanted. The less that was made in Japan, the less we could handle, and our business started to slow down. Due to the expansion in China, the price had gone down.
This has caused, in thirty-five years, the bankruptcy of many companies.
Dismantling electronic waste at NPO Hamaya
Hamaya Analysis Center
The Great Hamaya Crusher
Your company is heavily engaged in national and international networking to do business, building relationships with refining companies and scrap suppliers. As you seek to expand your business, are you looking for more overseas partners?
It’s a difficult time right now for most businesses, including ourselves. There is not much exposure and therefore it becomes difficult to deal with foreign companies for materials. However, the future is bright as we have many employees who can speak multiple languages and contact affiliates outside of Japan. We are optimistic and try to recruit even more foreign employees, such as students. The idea is to employ people who have specific technical expertise in PCBs and who have an academic understanding of it. After working in our company, it is possible that they return to their country and start their own company, with which we can then establish a link.
Only 20% of electronic waste is recycled in modern society. With countries like Brazil and India increasing their GDP and slowly becoming consumer-driven societies, the need for recycling will increase. You already have “Hamaya Do Brasil”, but in the future, on which sites abroad would you like to set up to benefit from this growing demand for recycling?
The need and demand is there because e-waste can be found anywhere. There is no country in the world that does not have PCs or smartphones. However, technologies capable of processing them, such as refining, are only found in certain countries, such as Japan or Europe. The market itself is small and niche, but there is a lot of competition, and we can look at an area that contains large amounts of e-waste.
As we look to the future, what strategies are you putting in place to continue to strengthen your business? What sales goals are you setting for the future?
We are considering increasing our recycling of the electronic waste segment, which will help us in our future objectives. It is the only segment of our activity that we can develop financially. Our reuse business is stable, but there is not much room for growth. Our rare metals have growth potential, with 20% of the turnover achieved today on rare metals and we also hope to increase this segment tenfold. In terms of quantified objectives, we do not have clear figures. But in the coming years, we hope to increase our sales from 10 billion to 20 billion Japanese yen.
Regarding your overseas expansion as a recycling and trading company, what is your international strategy for the future?
We had bases in Hong Kong and the Philippines, but these have since closed, and we have learned from our mistakes. It took ten years in Brazil for the company to get to where it is now, which is stable but profitable.
Due to the difficulties we have experienced, we are thinking about finding local partners. There are many recycling companies in the world, and many countries are showing up for this business. Working with local businesses is the way to go, and probably the most effective strategy too, and this could be executed by employing foreign students, for example. Economically developing countries, such as India and some African countries, or dense population centers, are our target areas. Where there are a lot of people, there is a high use of everyday commodities, especially electronics, and that’s a great reason why we should locate in those areas.
Imagine we come back just before you retire to have that interview again. What would you like to tell us? What goals would you like to achieve by then?
The young employees will be responsible for taking the company to new heights and making it the first company in Japan to collect rare metals. The social contribution must be defined because if we do not introduce the recycling of electronic waste, it will be dumped in the environment and will damage it. It must be properly managed and for this reason we bear the responsibility of being a socially responsible company that contributes to being respectful of the environment.
We want to develop refining technology and introduce it into our business in the future, and we also want to work on our analytical technology.